Mask-wearing mandates and other local government COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and individuals in Florida are no longer in effect, per a pair of executive orders signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 3.
Business owners can still require masks when patrons enter their establishments, but DeSantis’ orders override any approved decision-making and oversight by city and county governments over COVID measures that infringe on rights or liberties.
The first executive order signed by DeSantis suspends all local COVID-19 restrictions and mandates on individuals and businesses through the end of June. Come July 1, a second executive order goes into effect officially invalidating emergency orders by local municipalities in relation to COVID-19 emergencies that restrict the rights or liberties of people and businesses.
Executive orders that end local mask rules don’t apply to schools, per the Florida Department of Education. Orders only pertain to city and county government restrictions on individuals and businesses.
DeSantis signed the executive order following a May 3 press conference in St. Petersburg, where he also signed legislation that disallows states and local governments from closing businesses or preventing students from receiving in-person instruction at school. The bill passed through the House and Senate before the end of session last week.
Executive orders and legislation signed into law only apply to pandemics and other public health emergencies. It exempts orders in response to a hurricane or other weather-related emergency.
Per the bill DeSantis signed, any ordinance or measure depriving a person of a right, liberty or property requires a governmental entity to prove that the measure is “narrowly tailored” and serves a “compelling governmental interest” through the “least intrusive means.” It also authorizes the governor or legislature to invalidate a city or county measure that “unnecessarily restricts a constitutional right, fundamental liberty or statutory right.”
Citing the vaccine’s success and effectiveness, DeSantis said his orders that end local mandates are the “evidence-based things to do.” Just over 8.9 million Floridians received either the one-dose Johnson & Johnson or the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer series, as of May 3. More than 5.4 million of those are over 55 years of age.
Local actions that restrict in-school instruction or close business must satisfy demanded and continuous justifications, DeSantis said.
“I think folks that are saying that they need to be policing people at this point, you really are saying you don’t believe in the vaccines, you don’t believe in the data, you don’t believe in the science,” he said. “We’re no longer in a state of emergency.”
Specifics pertaining to DeSantis’ order weren’t released until later in the day on May 3. A press release issued in the evening by Monroe County stated that it was researching the governor’s executive order. The release also stated that it wouldn’t be enforcing its mask ordinance, nor would it be responding to COVID-19 mask complaints. Individuals and businesses can still choose to wear and require masks, however.
“Nothing in the governor’s order prevents a restaurant or other business from requiring employees and patrons to wear masks while on the premise,” the release states.
A special meeting of the Monroe Board of County Commissioners is set for Wednesday, May 5 at 9 a.m. to discuss the local mask mandate. If Monroe County rescinds its mask ordinance, it will also apply to the City of Marathon and Village of Islamorada because neither wrote their own ordinance. (The City of Key West did.) That means masks will no longer be required in either city hall or the county buildings.
“We never adopted an official policy for city hall (regarding masks),” said City of Marathon attorney Steve Williams.
Courthouses, however, are under a different jurisdiction. Rules regulating them are written in the state capital, Tallahassee.
As for the local mask mandate, County Commissioner Mike Forster said the governor “superseded everything we’re doing.”
“We can fight it but it’s a fight we’ll lose,” Forster said regarding DeSantis’ orders.
New cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County are averaging just over 10 a day. Those in the Keys receiving vaccines are approaching 38,000.
In total, cases of COVID-19 in the Keys since the pandemic began total 6,931. Of that number, just over 6,500 are residents and around 400 nonresidents.
Key West has led in total cases with just over 3,200 since the pandemic began. Cases in Key Largo since the start are just over 1,000, while Marathon has seen just over 780 cases since the beginning.
DeSantis’ executive orders addressing local COVID-19 restrictions go back to September 2020, when he suspended collection of local fines and penalties associated with COVID-19 regulations on individuals. In March, another executive order by DeSantis’ canceled all fines on individuals and businesses related to city and county COVID-19 restrictions.
In late March, DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 72, which provides liability protection to individuals, businesses, educational institutions, churches and health care providers for liability claims related to COVID-19. And just a month later, he extended a state of emergency to ensure students remained in school for the rest of the year, while also quashing any vaccine passport requirements “as a condition of participating in everyday life.”
“We worked very hard particularly since summer to jettison policies, and we focused on lifting people up, getting people back to work and we wanted to get kids back to school,” DeSantis said during the press conference. “We thought that it was important that parents have the ability to send their kids to school, and we wanted our economy to be healthy and society to be healthy. We wanted people to be happy living in Florida.”