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Fla. Republican Gov. DeSantis Cancels COVID-19 Restrictions Statewide

NOEL KING, HOST:

Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, has signed an order canceling all COVID-related restrictions, so things like mask requirements and social distancing guidelines. Here he is in a restaurant in St. Petersburg talking about this decision.

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RON DESANTIS: I think folks that are saying that they need to be policing people at this point - if you're saying that, you really are saying you don't believe in the vaccines, you don't believe in the data, you don't believe in the science.

KING: NPR's Greg Allen is following this story from Miami. Good morning, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So presumably, the pandemic is not over there in Florida.

ALLEN: No, certainly not. Let's talk about the numbers here. Yesterday, there were more than 3,000 cases. Cases are still staying high, going down very slowly. We had 41 additional deaths. DeSantis is saying that he believes, though, that because the vaccine is available to all who want to get it, there's no reason to keep imposing restrictions on individuals and businesses. And you know, he's not alone. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have all announced that they will in most COVID restrictions in two weeks.

KING: So what does this order mean on the ground? How do you think you'll see things change?

ALLEN: Well, you know, Florida here doesn't have a mask mandate statewide, but in cities and counties around the most populous areas of the states, they have been in place. They've been following CDC guidelines, you know, with social distancing inside. Many areas require masks to be worn inside and outside in crowds. But DeSantis says his new order invalidates all those mask requirements.

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DESANTIS: If we have widespread vaccinations that are over 99% effective, what's the evidence basis to force somebody to wear a mask? Now, we - or any of these restrictions...

ALLEN: You know, DeSantis says this order is just about government regulations; it doesn't apply to businesses. But at the same time, he has another order that prevents the use of so-called vaccine passports. Under that order, people can't be denied service because they won't share information about whether or not they're vaccinated. And this has implications for cruise lines, which are trying to get restarted here.

KING: DeSantis has been criticizing lockdowns and other restrictions for a long time. But isn't he also sort of stepping on cities and counties that have made their own rules about this?

ALLEN: Well, he certainly is. I mean, that's the way they see it. He's repeatedly said - DeSantis has said that he believes the extended COVID lockdowns and closure of the schools were public health disasters, as he's called them. He also has now signed a law that allows local officials to impose their emergency measures just for a week at a time and for six weeks in total. And he can override those orders any time. It's a major blow to home rule. Democrats say it's hypocritical because it basically turns on its head this idea that Republicans have long been this champions of local control, saying that local officials can decide what's best for the communities. Here's St. Petersburg's mayor, Rick Kriseman.

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RICK KRISEMAN: And it's about the state trying to wrestle control and take control away from local government, from the people who are closest to the people who elected them to make the decisions about what's best for our community.

ALLEN: You know, that battle over preemption, you know, the state taking authority away from local governments, is one we've seen often here in Florida and around the country. It will likely face a court challenge. It's just one of many controversial things that have happened here in Florida recently in the legislative session. There's been some other things on - everything from elections to transgender athletes to protests. And those will all be challenged, we believe.

KING: A lot going on. Let me ask you - do other local government officials agree with the mayor there who's saying the state is trying to take control away from us?

ALLEN: Oh, yeah. I think nationally here, mayors are - not nationally - statewide, mayors feel that they've been blindsided by this. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, for example, says this area is still in a public health emergency and new variants are spreading. Other mayors say that they think that they did the right thing while Governor DeSantis took a largely hands-off approach to the coronavirus. And populous areas like Miami, Orlando and Tampa put to these mandates in. Now all those mandates are ending.

KING: NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Thanks, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.