Florida officials denounce Gov. Ron DeSantis’ lift of COVID-19 restrictions

(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.) — Local Florida officials are voicing their outrage over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension of all local COVID-19 emergency orders — with the St. Petersburg mayor warning his county may never hit herd immunity.

The Republican governor issued the executive order Monday, as the state has 28.27% of the population fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins coronavirus data.

DeSantis also signed Senate Bill 2006, which was passed by lawmakers last week and goes into effect July 1. The law will force local government emergency orders to expire after seven days, and they can only be extended for up to 42 days. The law also allows the governor to invalidate any local emergency order.

The governor said his Monday order was to enact some of the provisions of that new law faster.

“I think that’s the evidence-based thing to do,” DeSantis said during a press conference in St. Petersburg on Monday. “I think folks that are saying they need to be policing people at this point, if you’re saying that, then you’re really saying you don’t believe in the vaccines.”

Businesses can still mandate patrons wear masks and practice social distancing, and the order does not apply to schools, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman lashed out at DeSantis for the move.

“Forgive me if I want to follow the experts and the opinions of experts like the CDC,” the Democrat said on ABC News’ podcast “Start Here” on Tuesday morning. “Not even quite 44% yet of the population of my county has been [at least partially] vaccinated. I was really hoping … to get at least above 50% vaccinations before we start looking at scaling back. But we’ve scaled back.”

“Truthfully … 70%, we’re never going to see that,” he said citing the 70% vaccinated population threshold experts say needs to be reached for herd immunity. “I mean, I’d love to say we would … [but] I don’t think we’ll hit it. Because for whatever reason, it’s become politicized. Our health has become politicized. And that should have never, ever happened in this country.”

The virus still poses a threat. On Monday, around 3,100 Floridians were hospitalized with COVID-19 as the primary diagnosis, per state data.

St. Petersburg currently requires masks, and while indoors people must socially distance, but there is no limitation on restaurant capacity. Large-scale events are allowed outdoors with masks and other guidelines.

Kriseman said DeSantis should be thanking cautious local officials for keeping cases down, especially as the state surpassed a devastating 2.24 million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and more than 35,000 resident deaths, according to state data.

When asked if a governor or state legislature should have the right to invalidate a city’s COVID-19 restrictions, Kriseman said, “I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

“I know what my community needs,” Kriseman said. “The governor doesn’t always know what each individual community needs because they’re not here. They don’t live here.”

A string of other local officials have also denounced DeSantis’ lift of COVID-19 restrictions.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, “I’m deeply concerned by this decision. We are still in a public health emergency, and our economy has not fully rebounded from crisis.”

Florida Rep. Charlie Crist, the state’s former Democratic governor who announced Tuesday he will run for governor again, said DeSantis “failed to lead during the pandemic, leaving local officials as the last line of defense against the pandemic, forcing them to make the hard decisions to save lives,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

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