Local officials in Florida are visibly breaking with the approach to the pandemic undertaken by the administration of Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. Throughout the pandemic, DeSantis has resisted calls to take COVID-19 more seriously, even as thousands of his own constituents have gotten ill and died. Like other Republicans, DeSantis has often cast pandemic-related concerns as primarily freedom-tied issues, glossing over the fact that the whole thing is — quite literally — a matter of life and death. What good is so-called freedom for someone who’s died? As of Thursday afternoon on the East Coast, The New York Times reported that a daily average of over 7,200 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida — the highest daily hospitalizations average of any state.
Now, among other examples of local officials in Florida who’re going their own way, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings has declared a state of emergency in connection to the spread of the so-called delta variant of the pandemic-causing virus, while school board members in Broward County have opted to have a mask-wearing mandate in place as the school year begins once more next month. In contrast, at a Wednesday event in Utah, DeSantis insisted that it’s “very important that we say unequivocally ‘no’ to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions and no to mandates.” Again — it’s unclear how saying “no” to so-called lockdowns could be so important for someone who has died and whose death could have potentially been prevented with stricter safety measures.
Meanwhile, Orange County and Leon County in Florida are also imposing requirements for (at least in Orange’s case, nonunion) county workers to get vaccinated. These requirements mirror similar demands that have been implemented elsewhere, like in New York, where state employees will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Labor Day or undergo frequent testing for the virus. Demings said this week that he hoped “to show our residents and visitors Orange County is being proactive.” Meanwhile, Broward County school board member Sarah Leonardi said that it’s her “feeling that just because the governor doesn’t want to act in the best interest of his constituents, that does not absolve us from our responsibility.”