Gov. Ron DeSantis, back in Florida amid his presidential campaign, urged Americans to defy any new federal public health guidance to wear masks, take vaccines, or engage in social distancing in light of an upsurge in COVID cases and emergence of a new viral variant.
The move by DeSantis comes as First Lady Jill Biden has been infected by COVID-19 and President Joe Biden has announced his plan to wear face masks while indoors and around other people.
In Florida, the governor pushed laws through the Legislature banning mask and vaccine mandates in schools and workplaces and allowing doctors to follow their “conscience” in prescribing alternative therapies. He also persuaded the Florida Supreme Court to appoint a civil grand jury to investigate “the adverse effects of COVID-19 shots.”
But during a news conference in Jacksonville, DeSantis even urged people in other states to defy any federal public-health orders.
“There needs to be pushback, because there wasn’t pushback back in March of 2020,” the governor said, referring to the virus’ initial emergence and issuance of the first federal lockdown guidance to help people avoid infection.
“I can tell you, as somebody that pushed back, I was on an island. I didn’t have a lot of people support me. I certainly didn’t have, you know, the bureaucracy, the media, the left, the Democrats, but even a lot of Republicans were attacking me, you know, at the time,” DeSantis continued.
“That’s fine. My job as a leader is to do what’s right, but there are a lot of people that I think wish that they would have spoke up sooner. And so now we’re going to speak up. If they try coming for you on any of this stuff in the state of Florida you are protected, and so you don’t have to worry about it.
“But if you’re in another jurisdiction, do not comply with this nonsense. Stand up for your rights and stand up for yourself.”
Attack on Trump
DeSantis also attacked Donald Trump for allowing his administration to pressure Florida to reimpose business lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates during the COVID pandemic.
“Even January of 2021, you know, I was getting hit by the White House Task Force [on COVID] under Trump—this wasn’t even Biden, this was Trump—January of 2021, weeks before he left office, they were sending us a missive to Florida saying impose a mask mandate and close bars and restaurants and businesses. And that’s what they were pushing,” DeSantis said.
The governor’s challenge to the former president, who holds a significant lead in public-opinion polls, came as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitored a new COVID variant called BA.2.86, which has been identified in four states, and a surge in new cases that has been linked to a different variant.
DeSantis, however, backed by Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, warned against listening to the federal public health establishment.
“I can tell you here in Florida, we did not and we will not allow the dystopian visions of paranoid hypochondriacs control out health policies, let alone our state,” the governor said.
The DeSantis War Room feed on X, formerly Twitter, in 2021, posted what appeared to be a Task Force report urging “aggressive” action in light of a surge in COVID infections, including “masking, physical distancing, and avoiding family gatherings.”
In a survey of 600 Floridians, a recent poll found sharp political division over openness to COVID boosters, with 53% of Republicans very likely or somewhat likely get them if recommended by public health officials, against 84.1% of Democrats and 69.3% of independent voters.
DeSantis’ stance on COVID has differed sharply from the guidance from public health authorities and the majority of the medical community but Ladapo endorsed it when DeSantis hired him as surgeon general, head of the Florida Department of Health.
Although he doesn’t emphasize it, DeSantis initially went along with the Trump lockdown mandate. However, he soon began to lift restrictions.
“The FDA and CDC, they’ve basically become an arm of big Pharma. Pharma will make more money if this thing is approved and they start pushing it on everybody,” DeSantis said Thursday.
For his part, Ladapo warned that a new booster vaccine being prepared for release is untested on humans and may actually increase people’s chances of infection, although he didn’t release any evidence for that assertion. And Moderna, at least, has confirmed that it put its booster through clinical trials in humans, as Reuters reports.
Casting the dispute as spiritual warfare, Ladapo posed a rhetorical question: Why did so many people follow DeSantis instead of guidance to the contrary from the national public health establishment—“all these Ph.D.s and M.D.s?”
He imputed this thinking to those people: “I hear what they’re saying, but what he’s saying feels right.”
He continued: “Because there is something within all of us that resonates with freedom. And that something is part of our connection with God and our connection with every single thing around us, including each and every one of us.
“There are these forces out there who are relentless. And they really are relentless. It’s not that they were ever done trying, and they’re not done now. They are relentless, relentless, with every breath that they take. They are thinking about how they can control you. To what ends, only God knows, but it’s nothing pretty, right?”
If the feds step up COVID controls now, “It’s going to be another DeSantis moment where you’re going to have to remember that experience of hearing these very educated people telling you what you should think, but then listening inside to what makes sense, right? What feels right, you know? What feels like truth? What has that feeling and resonance of truth, that clarity of truth? We all know it when we feel it inside,” Ladapo said.
“When they try to convince you to be comfortable and agree with things, don’t feel comfortable,” he said. “That is a sign, that’s something we’re endowed with from our creator, right? And I encourage you and certainly beg and hope that you do listen to it, because it will serve you right.”
The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.