TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down Friday on his decision to not implement a statewide order making masks mandatory.
The governor held a news conference at Lee Health Fort Myers on Friday afternoon, hours after the state health department reported a record-breaking number of new coronavirus cases.
Doctors from the health system noted during the news conference the importance of wearing a mask or face covering as case numbers continue to rise. But DeSantis said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to mandate masks.
“I think it’s something – we provide education, we did an advisory at the beginning of May and we’ve advised that that’s something that could make an impact,” he said. “But at the same time, to do police and put criminal penalties on that, is something that would probably backfire.”
Florida lawmakers and state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried have called for a statewide mask order. Without it, some counties and cities in the Tampa Bay area have implemented their own mandates.
“They’re going to figure out how they’re going to use the long arm of the law to enforce it or not,” DeSantis said of the communities with mandates. “A lot of businesses will require it when you’re going in and that’s fine as well.”
The governor said the bottom line is, he’s trusting Floridians to be responsible and make good decisions. But one reporter pointed out during the news conference that hours earlier, the state announced it would be suspending alcohol consumption at Florida bars due to “widespread non-compliance” with guidelines.
“You said that we want to trust people to make the right decisions, follow the advisories, wear masks. But you also said that people haven’t been complying with the guidelines, younger people aren’t wearing masks,” the reporter said.
DeSantis was then asked if people can be trusted to wear a mask voluntarily.
“I think when people saw (coronavirus) fall out of the news in May, it wasn’t as big a – at least in Florida, people weren’t talking about it as much. Then you had two weeks of protests where nobody was talking about it. It was like coronavirus was no longer here,” he answered. “I think people looked at that and decided we’re back to normal.”
But with the recent surge in cases, the governor thinks that’s changed now.
“I think now people understand you still need to be able to do the basic social distancing and just take the basic precautions to protect yourself, but particularly your family members. That’s something that’s very, very important,” DeSantis said.
The Department of Health reported a record daily increase of 8,942 new cases on Friday. Testing increased as well – the state says it received 71,433 test results on Thursday compared to the 30,000 – 40,000 results we’ve seen per day the past two weeks. However, the percent of positive tests and percent positivity of new cases also went up. The overall percent positive was 14.74% on Thursday while the percent positivity for new cases was 13.05%.