Florida Gov. DeSantis suspends remaining COVID-19 emergency orders

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended remaining local COVID-19 restrictions within his state by executive order on Monday as part of a series of moves he said were meant to prevent government overreach in response to the pandemic.

DeSantis signed a bill that grants the governor the ability to invalidate local emergency orders, limits emergency orders to seven-day intervals and blocks state or local governments from shuttering businesses or in-person learning at schools. The bill also blocks businesses or schools from requiring so-called “vaccine passports,” or asking entrants to provide proof that they have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

While the bill does not take effect until July 1, DeSantis took executive action to suspend local COVID-19 orders in the state, such as local mask mandates, until it is fully implemented. The governor had already banned “vaccine passports” by executive order in late March.

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“Over the last year we’ve avoided protracted lockdowns and school closures in Florida because I have refused to take the same approach as other lockdown Governors. This legislation ensures that legal safeguards are in place so that local governments cannot arbitrarily close our schools or businesses,” DeSantis said in a statement.

“In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision,” he added.

DeSantis has drawn praise from top Republicans for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the state, which has eschewed strict lockdown measures utilized in blue states in favor of a more lenient approach. He has argued that restrictions in other states are not backed up by science and constitute government overreach.

Meanwhile, critics, including local officials, have argued that DeSantis’ approach will put the public at risk and make it more difficult to respond to future emergencies.

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,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Levine Cava said at a press conference, according to the Miami Herald. “We have fewer than half of our people vaccinated. We have new variants threatening us.”

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“Today, in preempting both local governments AND businesses from keeping their establishments safe, Ron DeSantis decided he cares not about public health, but power,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said on Twitter.

DeSantis’ executive order does not bar local businesses from requiring masks or social distancing within their establishments.

Speaking at a press conference, DeSantis argued that keeping restrictions in place could undermine confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.

“Folks that are saying that they need to be policing people at this point are saying you don’t believe in the vaccines, you don’t believe in the data, you don’t believe in the science,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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