Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday suspending local COVID-19 emergency orders in the state and banning “vaccine passports.”
He also signed an executive order immediately lifting the local emergency orders to bridge the gap between now and when the bill takes effect on July 1.
DeSantis, a rising Republican star regarded as a possible 2024 presidential candidate, said the move is “the evidence-based thing to do.”
“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,” DeSantis said. “We’ve embraced the vaccines. We’ve embraced the science on it.”
The governor pointed out that the suspension affects only government-mandated orders. It won’t affect how businesses such as supermarkets or Disney theme parks enforce coronavirus restrictions.
“It’s simply emergency orders and emergency penalties on individual businesses,” he said.
He explained that the bill “ensures that neither the state or local governments can close businesses or keep kids out of in-personal instruction unless they satisfy a demanding and continuous justification.”
DeSantis previously issued an executive order banning “vaccine passports.”
“You have a right to participate in society, go to a restaurant, movie, a ballgame, all these things without having to divulge this type of information,” DeSantis said.
The bill, SB 2006, restricts any emergency orders to no longer than six weeks and grants the governor the authority to overrule cities that adopt restrictions determined to be too harsh or unnecessary. The legislation also gives city and county commissions the authority to overrule mayors.
The governor’s powers, in turn, are checked by the state legislature.
DeSantis said that measure would serve a a check on a future Democratic governor who might enforce rules opposed by a Republican legislature.
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‘Most epidemiologists don’t know the literature as well as he does’
Last week, amid criticism from Democrats and media for opening his state, DeSantis received praise from one of the prominent epidemiologists who have advised him.
Stanford medical professor Jayanta Bhattacharya said he was surprised by the governor’s knowledge, calling him “extraordinary” and unlike any other politician.
“I mean, most epidemiologists don’t know the literature as well as he does. I mean, I don’t have the words. … I’m still stunned by it. I didn’t know anything about him, actually, before September, really. I’ve just been very impressed,” Bhattacharya said.
He said DeSantis had read all of the papers he referenced and many more.
“He knew all of the details; it was a remarkable conversation,” Bhattacharya said. “And then, we had this, like, roundtable on Sept. 25 … with DeSantis leading it, and the next day, he lifted most of the restrictions all across Florida.”
In September, Bhattacharya was joined by epidemiologists Sunetrea Gupta of Oxford and Martin Kulldorff of Harvard in a roundtable that helped inform the governor’s COVID-19 policy.
The three published a petition in October called The Great Barrington Declaration, which has been signed by more than 14,000 medical and public health scientists, and more than 42,000 medical practitioners.
It states that as “infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection.”
Focused protection means allowing the healthy to go about their business while focusing on protecting the vulnerable. In the panel discussion with DeSantis last September, they argued for the “age-targeted strategy,” contending lockdowns only make the pandemic worse.
DeSantis asked Kulldorf if locking down “society as a whole” actually could increase risk to the elderly population, noting the CDC indicates a survival rate of 99.997% for ages 0-19, 99.98% for 20-49, 99;95% for 50-69 and 94.6% for over 70.
Kulldorf said yes, contending that a total lockdown extends the time it takes to reach herd immunity.
“What helps the elderly is if the young take this very minimal risk and live normal life until there is herd immunity, and then when we have herd immunity, the older people can also live more normal lives,” he said.
‘Spiking the ball on the 10-yard line’
The signing of the bill and the executive order Monday drew criticism from some Florida mayors who thought the moves were premature, reported WPLG-TV in Miami.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said it “feels like he’s spiking the ball on the 10-yard line.”
“He’s been following political ideology more than science during this whole pandemic,” Gelber said.
Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago said he will “continue to encourage our residents and visitors to wear masks and follow social distancing and CDC guidelines.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman expressed his opposition on Twitter.
“Today, in preempting both local governments AND businesses from keeping their establishments safe, Ron DeSantis decided he cares not about public health, but power,” Kriseman said.
Your passport, please
The Biden administration has insisted it will not issue a government vaccine passport. However, it has been cooperating with corporations that have indicated they plan to require them, working on a way to standardize a vaccine ID process, the Washington Post reported in April.
The paper said the administration and private companies, “from cruise lines to sports teams,” could require the passports, which could amount to an app on a smartphone with a scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass.
On Friday, Biden told NBC News’ Craig Melvin he has not ruled out requiring that all military personnel receive the vaccine.
Meanwhile, Washington state Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee announced new guidelines Thursday that give special treatment to fully vaccinated people related to sporting events, performing arts and cruises.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday she will ease coronavirus restrictions when enough residents receive the vaccine, tying personal freedom to vaccine benchmarks.
‘A bunch of horse manure’
Last week, DeSantis, in an effort to “protect our girls,” said he plans to sign legislation passed Wednesday that would ban men who identify as women from competing in girls’ and women’s scholastic sports.
During a Fox News townhall on Thursday, moderator Laura Ingraham asked DeSantis if he believed the United States is a systemically racist country.
“Well, it’s a bunch of horse manure. I mean, give me a break,” he said.
“This country has had more opportunity for more people than any country in the history of the world and it doesn’t matter where you trace your ancestry from.”
Earlier last week, former President Donald Trump said that if he runs in 2024 he “certainly” would consider DeSantis as his running mate.
“He is a friend of mine. Certainly, Ron would be considered,” Trump said. “I endorsed Ron, and after I endorsed him, he took off like a rocket ship. He’s done a great job as governor. They like that. I’m just saying what I read and you read. They love that ticket.”
In February in Orlando, in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, DeSantis touted the fact that he had kept Florida open for business, enabling CPAC to hold its annual event in-person.
“We are an oasis of freedom in a nation that’s suffering in many parts of the country from the yoke of oppressive lockdowns,” he said. “We look around our country and in far too many places we see schools closed, businesses shuttered and lives destroyed.”
DeSantis also emphasized his state’s leadership in election integrity, combating Big Tech censorship and carving a new path for the party that leaves behind the “failed Republican establishment of yesteryear.”
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