Florida mayors call for Gov. DeSantis to do more to fight COVID-19, including a statewide mask mandate

Amber Randall, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·3 min read

A group of Florida mayors, including several from South Florida, called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to be more aggressive in fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the state, including imposing a statewide mask mandate.

Saying the state’s approach to managing the pandemic is failing at a time when cases are spiking, the mayors held a joint virtual press conference to push four key measures they say will help control the spread and ensure business don’t have to close down again.

“The window is closing and closing fast,” Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez said on the Zoom conference. “If we sit here and don’t do anything, I don’t want to be the one sitting here talking about closing businesses again or the hospitals are overcrowded.”

Hernandez, along with Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Sunrise Mayor Michael J Ryan and Miami Shores Village Mayor Crystal Wagar, called for DeSantis to implement the mask mandate as well as restore state testing facilities to their full capacity, set up better contact tracing measures and allow local governments to put in place restrictions they believe their areas need.

“It’s unmistakably clear that Florida’s approach to managing this pandemic is failing pretty horribly,” Gelber said.

The urgings from the mayors come after a record spike in cases after DeSantis moved Florida to Phase 3 in late September through an executive order. Since then, cases have trended upward and the positivity rate has reached over 7 percent, well above the recommended threshold public health experts recommend for re-opening. On Tuesday the state reported the second-highest number of new cases this month with 7,459.

DeSantis put in place broad restrictions that limited what local leaders could do in their own communities to curb the spread of the virus. Earlier in the pandemic’s course, he deferred to local leaders, allowing them to limit capacity in businesses, close those deemed non-essential and fine people to enforce mask requirements.

Local mayors expressed frustration with the governor’s limits on their authority and what they said was a lack of communication and support from the DeSantis administration.

“All we are asking for as mayors is the support of an administration in Tallahassee that is looking out for the residents of the state of Florida as much as we are for the residents of our community,” said Kriseman, the St. Petersburg mayor.

A uniform, statewide mask mandate, the mayors said, would allow the economy to stay open and prevent the spread of the virus, as well give enforcement authority back to local government leaders who best understand their needs of their communities.

Without the power to enforce things like mask mandates, the complete scale back of all restrictions has only allowed the virus to spread faster, Gelber said.

With lines growing longer at private testing sites, the mayors also called on DeSantis to reopen state testing sites and improve contract tracing to get a handle on who may have been exposed to the virus.

“Give us the tools to get to a vaccine with the fewest amount of deaths and hospital visits,” said Wagar, mayor of Miami Shores Village. “We are simply calling on the governor to do what is right.”

All the mayors warned of more unnecessary deaths from the pandemic and a burden on the healthcare system if certain measures aren’t put in to place to crack down on cases.

DeSantis has said repeatedly that he would not lockdown the state again, citing damage to Florida’s hospitality-driven economy.

“We will never do any of these lockdowns again,” DeSantis said during a stop in The Villages. “I hear people say they will shut down the country, and honestly I cringe.”

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