Health experts and local leaders were stunned Wednesday when Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis extended his order barring towns, cities, and counties from enforcing local mask mandates even amid a disturbing spike in COVID-19 cases.
DeSantis extended an earlier order prohibiting localities from fining people who refuse to wear masks, effectively rendering mandates unenforceable.
He extended the order less than a week after a bipartisan group of mayors pleaded with him to issue a statewide mask mandate. Experts widely regard masks as a simple, effective way to stem the tide of COVID-19. DeSantis is reportedly no longer taking phone calls from mayors.
Chris King, the 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, tweeted a news story of DeSantis’ latest move with a comment calling the decision a “killing spree.”
“I. Have. No. Words. Anymore,” tweeted epidemiologist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow in the Federations of American Scientists. “God help Florida. God help us all.”
Florida was one of the last states to institute any restrictions to battle COVID-19. DeSantis then allowed restaurants and bars to reopen at 100% capacity beginning in September. That’s when he also barred enforcement of local mask mandates.
Despite the governor’s order, the city of Miami Beach is planning to enforce its mask mandate — as much as it can — through the busy holiday weekend, WSVN Channel 7 News reported. It will issue citations and a $50 fine, even though it can’t legally collect the money as long as the governor’s order is in place.
Florida is close to its 1 millionth case of COVID-19 with more than 54,000 hospitalizations and more than 18,000 deaths.
DeSantis has been keeping an extremely low profile this month and wasn’t seen in public for 13 days at one point. He held his last press conference on Nov. 4 — to talk about the election.
“Our governor is nowhere to be found,” State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando told Spectrum News 13.
“He’s avoiding interaction with the public, he’s not holding press conferences, he’s not taking questions from the media, and there’s a reason,” Smith added. “He doesn’t want to be held accountable.”