Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is selling 'Don't Fauci My Florida' merch as the state reports some of the highest number of COVID cases in the US

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Amid some of the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations, and infections in the US, Florida's GOP governor, Ron DeSantis, is mocking White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci with campaign merchandise released this week.

DeSantis' campaign team rolled out T-shirts and koozies reading "Don't Fauci My Florida" on Monday, in the latest Republican stunt against COVID-19 measures.

The one-term governor is running for reelection in the 2022 Florida gubernatorial race, but the GOP rising star is also seen as a potential Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential election.

Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, DeSantis has positioned himself as a vocal opponent to lockdown measures, keeping most of Florida's schools and businesses open in spite of public-health experts' calls for social distancing.

Other T-shirts and hats on the DeSantis campaign site read "Keep Florida Free," while certain beer koozies sport a key DeSantis quote: "How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?"

DeSantis' campaign did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

It's not the first time DeSantis has slammed Fauci, who also serves as the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In early June, when COVID cases in the state had plateaued as vaccinations became widely available, DeSantis said Florida was faring so well economically because the state did not follow Fauci's advice.

Fauci has been a vocal proponent of face masks, vaccinations, and social distancing in the face of the pandemic - measures that many conservatives have rallied against, helping to turn Fauci, a medical expert, into a polarizing political figure over the past year.

"We're going to end up probably having like $10 million in reserve once the new budget takes effect," DeSantis said in June. "That would not have been possible if we had followed Fauci. Instead we followed freedom. And that's the reason Florida is doing better."

But the virus outlook in the state has turned worrisome in recent weeks.

As of Wednesday, Florida had the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in the US and the second-highest number of daily reported cases per capita, falling behind Arkansas, The Washington Post COVID-19 tracker showed.

Fauci, for his part, has brushed off the conservative backlash toward him, previously calling the response "bizarre."

The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Read the original article on Business Insider