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Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis declared Florida’s Covid emergency over on Monday and signed a law limiting local governments’ ability to intervene in public health crisis, even as most of the state’s population is still unvaccinated and experts warn the US’s woeful coronavirus response may mean the country will never reach herd immunity.
“I think it’s the evidence-based thing to do,’’ Mr DeSantis said on Monday. “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.
”If we have widespread vaccinations that are over 99% effective, what’s the evidence basis for somebody to wear a mask now?’’ he added, according to the Miami Herald, which reported his comments.
Florida hasn’t even vaccinated a third of its population, and ranks 38th out of 50 when it comes to its vaccination rate. It also has the nation’s third-highest Covid death toll, though that’s to be expected given Florida’s large population.
Mr DeSantis also signed a bill that invalidates all remaining local Covid emergency orders beginning in July, and which bars government entities like schools from requiring proof of a Covid vaccination. The law, SB 2006, also dramatically limits the ability of local governments to issue emergency public health orders, mandating they only last in increments of 7 days and no longer than 42 days. It also gives the governor power to invalidate local orders altogether.
Local officials were outraged about the governor pre-empting their public health powers.
“We are still in an emergency,” Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat, told the Herald. “We have fewer than half of our people vaccinated. We have new variants threatening us.”
Others, like St Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman, noted that the state allows schools to have vaccine requirements for other disease and questioned why Covid would be treated any differently.
“Elementary school through high school — diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chickenpox,” Mr Kriseman said. “Those are all vaccinations you have to get, and they’re required… But, now in Florida, COVID-19 vaccination isn’t included, we can’t require that. So, we have to ask the Governor and the Legislature, what’s the difference?”
Vaccination in the state is now open for those age 16 and over, but Florida was long considered the US epicenter of the virus, being one of the last states to close and the first to re-open.
Since last June, the state has rarely dipped below 3,000 new cases a day, and saw huge spikes last summer and over the winter holidays.