Florida Curtel coronavirus mandate reflects wishes of vaccine skeptics
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Florida to promote vaccines for the coronavirus, visit retired communities and hospitals, and celebrate the people who got their shots.
But it was a remarkably different picture this week, when Florida’s lieutenant governor, Janet Nunez, was a keynote speaker at a rally organized by anti-vaccination activists on the steps of the State Capitol.
The shocking scene gave a major victory to vaccine skeptics in Florida and moved the state further away from the guidance of federal public health officials, showing how a highly politicized pandemic has only become more so because of the Republican-controlled state’s Biden administration. of extensive efforts. To make it easy.
Perhaps no state has been more aggressive than Florida, where Mr. DeSantis and his allies are betting that anger over public health restrictions in Republican elections in Virginia, New Jersey and other states this month will bolster their political base and retain voters. Enthusiastically looking forward to the mid-term 2022. Mr DeSantis, who faces re-election next year, is also considered a leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidency.
The evolving strategy has turned traditional politics upside down in Florida, leading to tensions between Republican state lawmakers and big businessmen in one of their major constituencies, while the small minority of Democratic legislators have been forced to control the virus. to defend the efforts of the local government.
Along almost entirely party lines, Republicans passed four bills on Wednesday to ease mask and vaccine mandates, the culmination of a three-day special legislative session that Mr. DeSantis called so swiftly that it surprised even Republican leaders. Gave. Sessions was urgently needed to counter federal government overreach, Mr DeSantis argued.
“No Floridian should lose their job over Covid shots,” Mr DeSantis, who has dismissed vaccinations as “jabs” or “injections”, said on Tuesday. “It’s a personal decision that people should be able to make.”
The move against vaccination requirements has empowered groups whose fringe views on vaccines received little pushback from Republican legislators, a marked departure from Florida’s previous politics.
“The conscience of his caucus has been hijacked by extremes,” said Representative Ramon Alexander, a Tallahassee Democrat. “It is a threat to democracy.”
Mr DeSantis and Republican lawmakers have insisted they support COVID-19 vaccines – and in several cases have noted that they have taken them.
“No one is arguing that the vaccine doesn’t work,” Zephyrhills Republican Senator Danny Burgess said on the Senate floor. “Thank God we have a vaccine.”
Palm Harbor Republican House Speaker Chris Sproules said the new law was intended to allow Floridians to make decisions for themselves.
“We’re getting to this place where the specifics get lost on everyone,” he said. “You can be there for a vaccine or for the opportunity to get a vaccine for people and still not support forced vaccination by the government at large.”
Similar paradigm shifts are taking place in other Republican-controlled states, including Texas, where business leaders in the past have often seen their interests reflected in the actions of lawmakers. Now, the same MLAs are broadcasting the wishes of activists who are opposing the vaccination of COVID completely under the guise of promoting independence.
In addition to Florida, at least five other states have considered pandemic mandates or held special sessions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Florida, about 60,800 people have died due to Kovid-19. The state was hit hard by the virus this summer, when the delta version filled most of the state’s hospitals with more patients than at any time during the pandemic. That wave has burned itself out, and new cases and hospitalizations have fallen to the lowest level in the country in recent days. According to federal figures, about 61 percent of Florida’s population has been fully vaccinated, which is slightly higher than the national average.
Critics of the governor have said that his fight against the mandate resulted in unnecessary deaths. Florida experienced its worst daily death toll during this summer’s surge, when vaccines were already widely available.
As cases escalated, Mr. DeSantis fought local school districts and governments who needed masks or vaccines, withholding funds, fined them or taking them to court. (Most school districts have now eased their mask restrictions in light of falling virus levels.)
The DeSantis administration ended its declared coronavirus emergency in June. It closed state-run mass vaccination and testing sites. Unlike when vaccines first emerged, the governor made no major push for people to get boosters or immunize their children.
Instead, Mr. DeSantis has encouraged police officers to go to Florida if they leave out-of-state law enforcement agencies because they did not want to be vaccinated. In August, he said whether someone gets vaccinated “doesn’t really affect me or anyone else” – although society collectively benefits when more people are vaccinated.
The governor stood on a podium in Gainesville the following month next to a city employee who falsely claimed that a coronavirus vaccine “altered your RNA,” and did not challenge his claim. “I can’t even remember that he said that, so I haven’t said anything,” said Mr. DeSantis the next day.
The governor’s ties with vaccine skeptics may have begun in April, when Mr DeSantis refused to publicly shoot his Johnson & Johnson, joking that he didn’t need to show his biceps. (He has since declined to say whether he received the recommended booster or intends to get one.)
In September, Mr. DeSantis called on the new Florida Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo, a vocal mask and vaccine skeptic who did not disclose whether he had been vaccinated. The Florida Department of Health, under his guidance, will have significant authority over how the state enforces anti-mandate law.
Last month, Dr Ladapo refused to wear a mask when he visited Boca Raton Democrat Senator Tina Polski, even after he said she had a serious health condition and told her to. She later publicly revealed that she had recently undergone surgery for breast cancer.
On Wednesday, Ms. Polski drew a line from Dr. Ladapo’s governor’s election to the tolerance of Republican lawmakers to anti-vaccination activists who filled legislative committee meetings this week.
“All you can say is that you are pro-vaccine and anti-mandate, but these actions are playing out to this crowd,” she said on the Senate floor.
Many lawmakers worried that businesses might want to retain the ability to enforce the mandate; Many of the state’s biggest employers already have them, including Disney. And business owners, he said, didn’t want to face conflicting state and federal laws.
The Biden administration has ordered vaccinated federal employees and contractors, as well as employees of health care companies that receive Medicare and Medicaid. Several states with conservative governors, including Florida, have already challenged those federal mandates in court.
Ultimately, the legislators did not go as far as the governor had hoped.
He banned vaccine mandates for public school districts and local governments and gave parents complete discretion as to whether students should get vaccinated or wear masks. (The DeSantis administration last month fined Leon County $3.5 million for making vaccines mandatory for its employees—$5,000 for each person.)
He allowed vaccine mandates for private businesses, as long as companies included exemptions for medical and religious reasons, which were expected to be much broader than the federal exemptions. If employees were willing to take periodic tests or wear protective equipment such as masks, they could step out. Employers must pay for the tests or provide masks.
The Legislature also imposed a $50,000 fine per violation for employers with 100 employees or more (and a $10,000 fine for smaller employers) who mandated vaccines outside acceptable guidelines.
Lawmakers also allocated $1 million to the governor’s office for the study excluding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a clear jab at the Biden administration’s workplace order.
Democrats strongly opposed the new law.
“Is this bill really an attempt to keep Floridians safe?” Jacksonville Democrat Representative Angie Nixon, who contracted Covid last year while pregnant. “Or was it designed to launch a presidential campaign for our governor?”
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