Gov. DeSantis demands counties provide granular details of their responses to COVID-19

Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke with brewery operators in Pinellas County on Sept. 3 to discuss the possibility of letting bars expand operations notwithstanding COVID-19. Now he's compiling a database of county COVID-related restrictions. Source: Screenshot

Gov. Ron DeSantis has written to officials in Florida’s 67 counties requesting details of all actions they’ve taken in response to COVID-19.

The governor announced the directive on his Twitter feed and gave the local officials until Sept. 15 to respond.

The letter seeks “information in writing pertaining to all actions that you, or any board or commission on which you sit, have taken to implement orders, whether regulations, rules commands, or restrictions on persons, businesses, or other entities related to COVID-19.”

The governor demanded the text of any such orders and subsequent clarifications; enforcement guidelines; the amounts of fines or lengths of imprisonment for violators; the number of citations and arrests; and end-dates for any such orders.

The move came as DeSantis has been publicly reconsidering the broad business restrictions he imposed on the state to limit COVID transmission.

As recently as Thursday, the governor during a discussion with brewery owners in St. Petersburg argued that stringent social distancing restrictions were intended as a short-term strategy to avoid overloading hospitals with COVID patients.

“How long a period of time is that natural for people to do? What are the effects of not having people have more traditional interactions? No one talks about, no one knows that, because it’s never been tried at this level in the United States,” he said.

He indicated he’s open to allowing brew pubs to operate more freely, provided they can do it safely.

“I do think the businesses need certainty,” he told the brewers.

“When we go forward, you’re going to be able to do this [operate]. And if the locals want to put a little gloss on it here or there that’s one thing. But to say that they can roll you back or something, I think we’d probably need to get to a point where people have certainty,” DeSantis said.

Comments from DeSantis’ Twitter followers about Friday’s directive centered on whether the target is mask mandates, with some writers worried the governor may overrule local requirements and others hoping he would.

The governor’s press aides had no immediate response to a question about the governor’s intentions.

DeSantis has declined to make wearing masks to prevent COVID transmission mandatory at the state level but has allowed local jurisdictions to act has they see fit. However, he questioned mandates as a practical matter.

“You have to enforce that and you have to make a decision about what type of penalties you think are appropriate. I think statewide penalties would be problematic for a whole host of reasons,” the governor said in June.

“And I think we’ve just got to trust people, give them an opportunity to do the good things, make good decisions. I think that that tends to work better than to mandate this, mandate that.”

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.