TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would seek a “bill of rights” for college students in the wake of crackdowns on parties and other social gatherings that some blame for a surge in coronavirus infections at campuses across the country.
“I understand that universities are trying to do the right thing,” the governor told reporters, “but I personally think its dramatically draconian that a student could get potentially expelled for going to a party. That’s what college kids do,” DeSantis said at a Thursday news briefing at the Capitol.
The Republican governor also said he would move to block local governments from again closing restaurants, saying there’s been little evidence that shutting down eateries have slowed the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The governor’s move to preempt cities and counties from such closures will have no immediate effect because most restaurants have been allowed to reopen, albeit at reduced capacity, as part of the governor’s plan to revive the state’s economy.
The dual announcements came after a virtual round table he hosted from the Capitol, in which he convened three experts who question some of the mandatory measures — including school closures and wearing face masks — put in place to control the outbreak.
The experts — two from Stanford University and one from Harvard — acknowledged that their views were outside the mainstream of thought within the public health community. And their views mostly aligned with that of the governor.
“I just think that we’ve got to be reasonable about this and really focus the efforts on where the most significant risk is,” the governor said after a round table of experts who question the prevailing views on the response to the pandemic.
While the number of infections have spiked in recent weeks among college-age Floridians, DeSantis and the experts he convened said they were not alarmed because many of them never develop serious symptoms.
Since the pandemic surfaced in Florida in March, DeSantis has openly questioned the need for statewide mandates for masks. But he shut down bars and nightclubs, as well as severely limited how restaurants can operate. Many of the most drastic restrictions have since been lifted, as he has pushed to reopen the state as the numbers of new infections and deaths appear to have eased.
On Thursday, Florida added 2,541 coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide total to 693,040 infected. The state also reported 177 new fatalities, bringing the total among Florida residents to 13,795 deaths.