How serious was Gov. Ron DeSantis about cracking down on people who fled to Florida from out-of-state COVID-19 hot spots last spring? Enough to threaten them with arrest.
Also more serious than one might guess from DeSantis’ reaction Thursday to word that the Biden administration was considering — that is, speaking out loud between themselves — about travel restrictions in light of more virulent coronavirus strains.
“[A]ny attempt to restrict or lock down Florida by the federal government would be an attack on our state, done purely for political purposes,” the governor said in Port Charlotte.
“We will not back down, and if anyone tries to harm Floridians or target us, we will respond very swiftly,” he said.
Back in March 2020, caseloads were spiking in the New York metro area and New Orleans. DeSantis was under fire for refusing to impose stringent restrictions on Florida like those in New York and California.
The governor convened a news conference in his Capitol office to complain about New Yorkers fleeing those restrictions for Florida’s more easygoing scene, bringing COVID along for the ride.
To prevent that, he announced that law enforcement would greet flights from New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey with thermometers (to screen for fever before coronavirus tests were available) and instructions that passengers isolate themselves for 14 days.
They weren’t even allowed to stay with family. Later, he installed troopers along Interstate 10 to screen noncommercial traffic for COVID travelers from Louisiana.
“Hopefully, that will be a deterrent to people,” DeSantis said at the time.
“It is actually a criminal offense if you violate the quarantine orders. And so, people could end up being held accountable here in the state of Florida if they buck the law,” he added.
In the present day, the Biden administration seems more fixated on COVID variants than on Florida per se, although the mutant strain is here. (Florida has more variant cases than any other state, according to the CDC.) “But we’re having conversations about anything that would help mitigate spread,” the Miami Herald quoted from a White House official.
“To be clear, there have been no decisions made around additional public health measures for domestic travel safety. The administration is continuing to discuss recommendations across the travel space, but no specific decisions are under consideration,” a White House spokesperson said Thursday via email to the Florida Phoenix.
The governor’s communications office has not yet responded to a request for comment about his responses.