As COVID caseload spikes, Gov. DeSantis vows again: No more lockdowns in FL

Gov. Ron DeSantis discussed rising COVID-19 cases in Florida during a press conference in Fort Pierce on July 22, 2021. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel.

As COVID-19 cases surge in Florida and the more transmissible Delta variant continues to circulate, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday declared his opposition to any mitigation efforts, such as lockdowns or mask mandates, particularly for K-12 students.

During a news conference in Fort Pierce, the Republican governor addressed a reporter who noted that a group of doctors in South Florida had expressed concern about the surge in cases and criticized DeSantis’ handling of the state’s response.

“If anyone is calling for lockdowns, you’re not getting that done in Florida,” DeSantis said. “I am going to protect people’s livelihoods. I am going to protect kids’ right to go to school. I am going to protect people’s right to run their small businesses.”

“People need to make decisions that’s best for them. We’re going to lift people up, we are not locking people down,” he said.

According to the latest data from the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Florida’s daily coronavirus cases had spiked to 8,988, as of Tuesday. Those figures represent a dramatic increase in cases, compared to around 2,000 daily infections reported by the agency in early July.

But despite the concerning data from the CDC, DeSantis said that schoolchildren should not be required to wear face masks in classrooms. That decision should be left up to their parents, he said.

DeSantis also claimed that “there’s a campaign from Washington” to try to mandate masks in schools.

“There’s been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level, imposing compulsory masks on kids,” DeSantis said. “We are not doing that in Florida. We need our kids to breathe. We need our kids to be able to be kids.”

During the press conference, DeSantis was joined by Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls at Indian River State College to celebrate the signing of House Bill 3 — a home book delivery program for elementary kids who are struggling with reading.

“We’re excited about this program, and we really think it’s going to make a difference,” DeSantis said.

Sprowls stressed the importance of kids learning to read by the third grade.

“Struggling readers, the vast majority don’t have a book in their home. That’s going to change,” Sprowls said. “We are going to make 2030 our target — to make sure as many children in Florida will read on grade level by 2030.”

As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, data show that boys in Florida don’t read as well as girls. During the 2021 legislative session, the Florida Legislature approved a bill to create a task force aimed at closing the gap between boys and girls in reading performance.

Meanwhile, GOP governors including DeSantis have criticized the Biden administration’s policies at the Texas-Mexico border. DeSantis and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other officials there on Saturday to discuss issues surrounding border security.

“I was at the border last weekend, and I can tell you people are pouring to get across,” DeSantis said on Thursday, adding that most of the immigrants coming in are from poor countries.

Following the event, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced on Wednesday evening that she had tested positive for COVID-19.

“I received a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year and today tested positive for the virus,” she said via Twitter. “Thankfully, I am only experiencing mild symptoms and my family is in good health. As I continue to self-quarantine, I want to encourage Floridians to be vigilant about their health.”

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.