By John Haughey | The Center Square
Hours after Florida suspended alcohol sales at bars after another record-setting day for new coronavirus cases, Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated he will not issue a statewide mask order nor scale back the state’s reopening plan.
“We’ve advised that’s something that could make an impact,” DeSantis said during a Fort Myers news conference. “At the same time, to do police and put criminal penalties on that is something that probably would backfire.”
Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 dashboard Friday afternoon reported 8,942 new cases, breaking the previous record for daily case counts, set the day before, by nearly 3,500 cases.
According to DOH, 122,960 COIVID-19 cases have been diagnosed and 3,366 people have died from the disease in Florida since mid-March. On Friday, 13,987 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide.
More than 32,000 new cases – about 20 percent of all cases since March – have been reported in the past six days.
DeSantis said Friday he won’t issue a statewide order requiring masks but will not preempt mandatory mask orders issued by more than 40 state municipalities.
"They're going have to figure out how to use the long arm of the law to enforce it,” he said. “We're going to continue to put out the messaging, put out the guidance, and trust people to make good decisions.”
On Saturday, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees advised “all individuals in Florida should wear face coverings in any setting where social distancing is not possible” and discouraged social gatherings of more than 50 people.
The Florida Medical Association (FMA) last week encouraged local officials to require face masks in public.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide-elected Democrat, on Friday reiterated her call for DeSantis to issue a statewide mask order.
“This is not about politics,” Fried tweeted. “This is about putting the health and safety of Floridians first. It’s time to take action, and require a mandatory mask mandate statewide.”
Fried said DeSantis should mandate face masks indoors when social distancing is not feasible.
“Today, I am calling on the governor to issue a statewide order requiring masks to be worn in public places,” she wrote. “This is common sense, violates no one’s liberties, and follows the lead of 18 other states like North Carolina, Kentucky and New York. If we’re to beat this virus together, we must all act together, with all Floridians doing their part.”
DeSantis dismissed the criticism but said he expects local governments to follow through with vows to crack down on individuals and businesses that do not comply with social distancing protocols and local reopening plans.
When local governments enforce compliance, the governor said the state will take “major action” when necessary to support them, such as Friday’s order from state Business & Professional Regulations Secretary Halsey Beshears to immediately suspend alcohol sales at bars statewide.
Beshears told The Associated Press he issued the order because state and county health inspectors were reporting many bars were allowing patrons to violate social distancing protocols and it was “more than we could keep up with.”
The state allowed bars to reopen at 50 percent capacity June 5.
“People in general just wanted to get out and experience a normalcy,” Beshears said, noting there is no timeline to rescind the order. “Sadly, 90 percent are getting it right. It’s the other 10 percent that are ruining it for everybody.”