Local government officials in Florida are issuing new rules in their areas that will require some residents to mask up in certain indoor locations and county workers to get vaccinated, a move that could challenge a law signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year.
At least two mayors in Florida counties have issued new mandates in response to the growing threat of coronavirus in their jurisdictions as a result of the growing dominance of the Delta variant, which is more transmissible than other strains.
Masks or facial coverings are now required in all indoor buildings and facilities managed by Miami-Dade County. Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the decision was based on a recent surge of new cases and hospitalizations in the county.
“We have all come too far. We have all sacrificed too much in this past almost year and a half. We cannot turn back now,” Levine Cava said.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings also announced that nonunion county employees would be required to get their first COVID-19 vaccine shots by the end of August, and second shots would be required by the end of September. Similar rules were being negotiated for unionized workers in the county.
Orange County is home to Disney World, which also announced masks would be required for patrons in the indoor parts of its parks, including inside buses, the monorail and other modes of transport, no matter what a person’s vaccine status is.
In Broward County, the school board announced it would also impose mask requirements inside all of the schools for pupils, teachers, staff, and visitors who step inside those buildings for the coming academic year.
“I really wanted to start this school year as normal as possible. And a few weeks ago, I thought that we were in a position to go back to school without wearing masks and giving parents a choice,” said school board member Lori Alhadeff. “But now with COVID soaring, and the Delta variant, a lot has changed.”
The decisions by these county leaders to impose new requirements come as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made new recommendations for people in some of the nation’s hotspots. Regardless of whether a person is vaccinated or not, the CDC said, people should wear masks indoors if they’re residing in one of these hotspots.
The rules in Florida, however, may be challenged by DeSantis, who has expressed an anti-scientific viewpoint when it comes to the management of COVID-19 in his state. Florida Republican lawmakers passed a bill, which DeSantis signed in May, granting the governor the ability to cancel any local orders related to the pandemic.
DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw said that at least one of the new mandates would “be addressed” by the governor soon. DeSantis himself was not in the state on Wednesday, instead appearing at a conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Utah, where he joked about the new CDC guidelines to a mostly maskless audience.
“Did you not get the CDC’s memo?” the Florida governor said at the conference, referring to the new recommendations released this week. “I don’t see you guys complying.”
DeSantis’s humor will likely be viewed as being in bad taste by many, given how things are worsening in his home state more than 1,800 miles away. More than 38,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Florida on Tuesday alone, the day before he spoke at the ALEC conference, clocking in at the highest single-day count since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. In the past week, more than 350 Floridians died as a result of contracting coronavirus.