As G.O.P. Fights Mask and Vaccine Mandates, Florida Takes the Lead

As G.O.P. Fights Mask and Vaccine Mandates, Florida Takes the Lead

About 60,800 people have died of Covid-19 in Florida. The state was hit hard by the virus this summer, when the Delta variant filled hospitals in much of the state with more patients than at any time during the pandemic. That wave has burned itself out, and in recent days new cases and hospitalizations have fallen to some of the lowest levels in the country. About 61 percent of Florida’s population is fully vaccinated, slightly higher than the national average, according to federal data.

Critics of the governor have said that his fight against mandates resulted in needless deaths. Florida experienced its worst daily death tolls during this year’s summer surge, when vaccines were already widely available.

As cases spiked, Mr. DeSantis fought local school districts and governments that required masks or vaccines, withholding funds, fining them or taking them to court. (Most school districts have now loosened their mask restrictions, in light of the falling virus levels.)

The DeSantis administration ended its declared coronavirus emergency in June. It shut down state-run mass vaccination and testing sites. Unlike when the vaccines first came out, the governor has not made a big push for people to get boosters or their children vaccinated.

Instead, Mr. DeSantis has encouraged police officers to move to Florida if they left out-of-state law enforcement agencies because they did not want to get vaccinated. In August, he said whether someone gets vaccinated “really doesn’t impact me or anyone else” — though society collectively benefits when more people get vaccinated.

The governor the following month stood on a podium in Gainesville next to a city employee who falsely claimed that a coronavirus vaccine “changes your RNA,” and did not challenge his assertion. “I don’t even remember him saying that, so it’s not anything I’ve said,” Mr. DeSantis said the next day.

The governor’s dalliance with vaccine doubters may have begun in April, when Mr. DeSantis declined to get his Johnson & Johnson shot in public, joking that he did not need to show off his biceps. (He has since declined to say if he has received a recommended booster or intends to get one.)

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