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Mask mandate gaining bipartisan support in Florida

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Over the past week, Florida has added more than 65,000 new cases, averaging nearly 9,300 new positive tests for COVID-19 a day.

The newest wave of infections is reigniting calls for a statewide mask mandate in Florida and the idea is now garnering bipartisan support.

State Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, has joined with Democrats who have been calling for a mandate since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The masks should have never been a political divider for our state and for our country,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said.

Fried, the top elected state Democrat, began pushing Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a statewide mask mandate back in June.

“Leadership has got to start at the top,” Fried said. “So hopefully Representative Caruso’s courage to come together and to really make this a nonpartisan issue is the first step to making those changes.”

In recent days, local governments have launched new efforts to encourage mask wearing among residents. Tampa’s “Choose Your Mask” campaign is pushing a flier that implies the choice between wearing a face mask or ventilator.

But the local campaigns are only symbolic in nature. The governor’s latest pandemic executive order bars local governments from actually enforcing mask mandates.

Dr. Ron Saff, who serves on the board of the Florida Physicians for Social Responsibility, said any movement towards mask enforcement is a step in the right direction.

“And our political leaders in the House, in the Senate, they should have stepped up a long time ago to put the reins on Governor DeSantis,” Dr. Saff said.

Rep. Caruso has said he intends to push his fellow Republicans to enact a statewide mask mandate in the 2021 session, but a legislative mask mandate would have to survive the governor’s veto pen.

Attempts to reach Caruso for comment on this story were unsuccessful. The governor’s office said it has not yet been contacted by the state representative.