Normalcy is being returned to Florida sooner than many thought after state Governor Ron Desantis announced that he would be lifting all COVID-19 safety restrictions.
On Monday, the Governor signed legislation giving himself the authority to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the pandemic — including mask mandates, limitations on business operations and the shuttering of schools.
In addition to signing the law, which goes into effect July 1, DeSantis also signed a pair of executive orders to move more quickly, meaning that existing coronavirus measures enacted by local governments — such as requiring masks — would be abolished immediately. The order also permanently bans vaccine passports in the state.
In announcing the order at a press conference in St. Petersburg, DeSantis says at this point in the pandemic, it is unnecessary to be policing people.
“Folks that are saying that they need to be policing people at this point,” DeSantis said, “are saying you don’t believe in the vaccines, you don’t believe in the data, you don’t believe in the science.”
Since the announcement, several local leaders have expressed their disapproval of DeSantis’s order.
“It feels like he’s spiking the ball on the 10-yard line,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, whose city is within a county that was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. “He’s been following political ideology more than science during this whole pandemic.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman suggested that it was thanks to local governments that the death toll wasn’t higher.
“To be clear, cities like St. Pete, Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Miami Beach, saved Florida and the governor’s behind throughout this pandemic. Can you imagine if each city had been led by Ron DeSantis? How many lives would have been lost? What would our economy look like today?” Kriseman tweeted.
For Broward County Mayor Steve Geller, he is concerned that the order could send a message to Broward residents, including the large Caribbean-American community, that they don’t need to be vaccinated.
“I am concerned that the COVID crisis may not be over in the state of Florida. I am concerned that by issuing an order saying that local governments cannot have any restrictions at all whatsoever, coupled with his order prohibiting vaccine passports, that this is sending a message to people that they don’t need to be vaccinated any longer,” he said at a press conference.
Over 50 percent of adults in Broward County have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But Mayor Geller says this is not enough. “We need to be somewhere between 70 and 85 percent to achieve herd immunity,” he said.
Florida has fully vaccinated some 37 percent of its population of over 21 million people. But the governor has expressed confidence that the worst of the pandemic is now over.