Gov. DeSantis doubles down on anti-mask, anti-COVID-19 vaccine policies in Jacksonville news conference

Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a news conference in Jacksonville. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday criticized recent efforts across the U.S. to tamp down a recent jump in COVID-19 cases through temporary restrictions or masking and his state surgeon general warned against getting the latest COVID-19 vaccine, which is expected to be available this month.

The criticism from DeSantis at news conference in Jacksonville arrived the same day his campaign for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination sent out an email to supporters vowing to “fight back against every bogus attempt the Left makes to expand government control” when it comes to COVID-19 precautions.

At the Jacksonville news conference at an Irish pub, DeSantis and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo promised Florida won’t be joining states, cities or school districts across the U.S. in temporarily closing schools or mandating mask-wearing because of the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases.

“People are lurching toward this insanity again,” DeSantis said. “As we see these things being orchestrated ... there needs to be pushback.”

Lapado said there were no arguments for getting the latest vaccine.

“There are a lot of red flags,” Ladapo said.

Ladapo’s previous warnings against COVID-19 vaccines merited a public letter from federal health agencies saying his claims were harmful to the public. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent the letter in March to Ladapo, a DeSantis appointee who has attracted national scrutiny over his close alignment with the governor in opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other health policies embraced by the federal government.

Ladapo last year released guidance recommending against COVID-19 vaccinations for healthy children, contradicting federal public health leaders whose advice says all kids should get the shots.

“It is the job of public health officials around the country to protect the lives of the populations they serve, particularly the vulnerable. Fueling vaccine hesitancy undermines this effort,” said the letter signed by FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and then-CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

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“In Florida, not only did we stand in the fight when it was happening, but we’ve enacted permanent protections against these policies now and in the future for Floridians and that is really, really important. And so, you as a parent can send your kid to school and the school can’t force them to wear a muzzle all day, they’re allowed to breathe,” DeSantis said. “You also have a right as a Floridian to earn a living, regardless of whether you want to take the latest COVID-19 booster shot or not.”

RELATED: COVID-19 cases are steadily rising in Florida

The governor said no one can be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster and cannot be penalized if they don’t get a shot.

“There were a lot of people that I think wish they would have spoken up sooner. Now we are going to speak up. If they try coming for you on any of this stuff in the state of Florida, you are protected. You do not have to worry about it,” DeSantis said.

The state Department of Health’s latest report confirms a 29.7% uptick in positive COVID-19 cases, that’s nearly a 7% increase from last week. Doctors said the new variants do not compare to the previous Delta variant and are not as severe.

By the end of this month, a new COVID-19 booster is expected to be available to the public. It does not protect against all three strains.

Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Mobeen Rathore encourages practicing healthy behaviors like washing hands frequently, wearing a mask in crowded settings and social distancing. Last fall, we dealt with the tripledemic of RSV, the flu and COVID-19 infections all at once. Rathore said the tripledemic could happen again this fall.

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.