Florida governor lifts all COVID-19 restrictions

Florida governor lifts all COVID-19 restrictions

Declaring Florida’s COVID-19 emergency over, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed an executive order invalidating all remaining local emergency COVID orders and signed a bill into law that bars businesses, schools and government entities across Florida from asking anyone to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

“I think it’s the evidence-based thing to do,’’ DeSantis said at a St. Petersburg restaurant where he signed the bill with House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson at his side. “I think folks that are saying that they need to be policing people at this point, if you’re saying that, you really are saying you don’t believe in the vaccines, you don’t believe in the data, you don’t believe in the science. ... We are no longer in the state of emergency.”

The provision regulating so-called “vaccine passports” is tucked into SB 2006, a bill intended to update the state’s emergency powers in the face of a future public health emergency. The new law is effective July 1, but DeSantis also on Monday said he would sign an executive order invalidating all remaining local emergency COVID orders that are still in place after July 1 and suspend immediately any orders related to COVID-19 now.

The measure would make it more difficult for local governments to respond to public emergencies by requiring any future emergency orders to be narrowly tailored and extended only in seven-day increments for a total of 42 days and gives the governor the authority to invalidate an emergency order. Currently, such orders can be extended indefinitely.

Under the new law, businesses, schools and governments may not require proof of vaccinations, and if they do, they can be fined up to $5,000 per incident. They may, however, institute screening protocols if it is “consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health.”

Licensed healthcare providers are the only entities exempted from the vaccine documentation provision.

Private companies can continue to require people to wear masks, but governments cannot mandate it, under the law.

On Sunday, Florida registered 3,841 new COVID-19 cases, 31 deaths and 6.3 million fully vaccinated people, about 30% of the population. Florida ranks 38th in vaccine rates in the nation.

The governor defended his decision to suspend local emergency orders relating to masks and social distancing.

”If we have widespread vaccinations that are over 99% effective, what’s the evidence basis for somebody to wear a mask now?’’ he asked.

Also Monday, the governor ordered that the state Capitol, which had been closed to the public since March of last year even as he ordered the rest of the state to be open for business, will reopen to the public on Friday.

Local government officials immediately criticized the governor’s decision.

Push back from the mayors

In Miami-Dade County, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said a lifting of local COVID rules would ignore the dangers that remain to public safety.

“We are still in an emergency,” Levine Cava, a Democrat in a nonpartisan office, said after a press conference on youth sports. “We have fewer than half of our people vaccinated. We have new variants threatening us.”

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said he expects the order to suspend the city’s ability to shut down businesses when customers or employees don’t wear masks — just as popular Beach night spots like LIV and Mango’s Tropical Cafe have begun welcoming back crowds.