While other jurisdictions toy with reinstituting public health restrictions in response to rising COVID-19 cases, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) says that his state won’t go in for another round of lockdowns and mask mandates.
“If anyone is calling for lockdowns, you’re not getting that done in Florida. I’m going to protect people’s livelihoods. I’m going to protect kids’ right to go to school. I’m going to protect people’s right to run their small businesses,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Fort Pierce, Florida, yesterday. “We have three vaccines that have been widely available for months and months now. People need to make decisions what’s right for them.”
In Florida, just like the nation as a whole, COVID-19 cases are increasing thanks to the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant of the virus. The state’s cases have increased nearly eight-fold since the beginning of July. About one in four new COVID infections are happening in Florida, reportsThe Hill.
There has been a significant increase in hospitalizations in the state, The New York Times reported today. Some 70 percent of inpatient hospital beds are occupied in the state, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dashboard.
Nevertheless, Covid deaths have risen much less dramatically. The state’s 7-day average of deaths was 34 as of yesterday, up from 30 at the beginning of July. COVID deaths are down 94 percent since December, reports the Miami Herald.
“These vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality,” DeSantis said earlier this week.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said during a CNBC segment yesterday that this current wave of cases would continue to increase through the end of August and then likely subside.
Florida has essentially been free of Covid restrictions since May. That month, DeSantis issued an executive order suspending all local states of emergency. He also signed a bill that requires local emergency orders to be “narrowly tailored” to serve a “compelling public health or safety purpose.” That bill also capped the number of days a local emergency order could be extended for, and it made it easier for the state legislature to overturn the governor’s state-level emergency policies.
DeSantis has also pardoned people convicted of violating Covid restrictions and canceled any fines they’d have to pay.
Florida provides a contrast to states like California, which only officially ditched most of its pandemic regulations, including capacity limits on businesses and offices, on June 15. Rising COVID cases have prompted Los Angeles County to reinstate its mask mandate, even for the vaccinated, and threaten further restrictions still. Other California counties have merely recommended people, regardless of vaccination status, don their masks again.
Reimposing restrictions on the vaccinated, particularly when deaths are the lowest they’ve been since the beginning of the pandemic, might actually be counter-productive to public health.
“For young, healthy residents who understand that they face little personal risk from COVID-19, the freedom to eschew masks may be one of the most appealing aspects of vaccination,” wrote Reason‘s Jacob Sullum last week. “So far 61 percent of Los Angeles County residents 16 or older are fully vaccinated, and this mask rule does not seem like a good strategy for pushing that number up.”
At least in Florida, policymakers are resisting the urge to create that disincentive.