TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday demanded that local officials provide information about “all actions” county governments, city commissions or other boards or commissions have taken regarding the coronavirus.
The governor requested that local government officials submit “a complete response of information in writing” about any orders, including “regulations, rules, commands or restrictions on persons, businesses or other entities” related to COVID-19. DeSantis demanded “the full text” of any orders and amendments; any “enforcement guidance” provided to law enforcement agencies; and “the possible amount of the fine or penalty” or the length of imprisonment for violations of orders. DeSantis also is seeking the number of citations and the numbers and amount of fines or penalties, as well as “specific information on any arrests and imprisonments due to violations of any such order.”
Friday’s directive came as the numbers of COVID-19 cases and virus-related deaths in the state continue to climb. The Republican governor has refused to issue a statewide face mask mandate, deferring to local officials.
As coronavirus cases in the state began to spike in mid-June, DeSantis said whether to wear face coverings should be a personal decision.
“This has to be voluntarily because the Constitution is not suspended just because there is a virus,” the governor told reporters on June 19. “You do have a right to protest, you have a right to go to religious service, all these other things.”
DeSantis’ demand for the information came a day after he met with bar and brewery owners in St. Petersburg to discuss possible reopening plans for drinking establishments, which have been shuttered unless they also sell food.
Although DeSantis often has said local officials should be in charge of social distancing and face masks mandates, the governor on Thursday questioned local governments' decisions to close beaches in March.
“It was not evidence based. There was hysteria base to do it,” DeSantis claimed. “We never did that statewide in Florida. We gave the communities the options to keep them running. And in the places that did, that had no discernible difference on the epidemic.”
DeSantis and the meeting attendees weren’t wearing face masks during Thursday’s roundtable event, although a local ordinance requires people to wear masks in businesses that are open to the public.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman scolded DeSantis on social media for not abiding by the city’s mandate.
“Here's an example of what not to do, especially in Pinellas County and St. Petersburg, where our mask mandate & policies have led the way in the fight against COVID,” Kriseman, a Democrat, tweeted Thursday. “We believe in science here, governor. We also believe in leading by example.”