TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida has added more than 65,000 new coronavirus cases over the past week, averaging nearly 9,300 new infections a day. The new wave of infections is reigniting calls for a statewide mask mandate – and the idea is now getting bipartisan support.
Republican State Rep. Mike Caruso joined with Democrats who have been calling for a mandate since early on in the pandemic.
“The masks should have never been a political divider for our state and for our country,” Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried said.
Fried, the top elected state Democrat, began pushing Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a statewide mask mandate in June. Florida has never had a statewide mandate in place for masks. Instead, the governor has said he trusted Floridians to be responsible and make good decisions.
“Leadership has got to start at the top. So hopefully Rep. Caruso’s courage to come together and to really make this a nonpartisan issue is the first step to making those changes,” Fried said.
In recent days, local governments have launched new efforts to encourage mask-wearing. Tampa’s “Choose Your Mask” campaign is pushing a flier that implies the choice between a face mask or a ventilator.
But the local campaigns are only symbolic in nature. The governor’s latest pandemic executive order prohibits local governments from actually enforcing mask mandates.
Dr. Ron Saff, who serves on the board of the Florida Physicians for Social Responsibility, said any movement towards mask enforcement is a step in the right direction.
“And our political leaders in the House, in the Senate, they should have stepped up a long time ago to put the reigns on Gov. DeSantis,” Dr. Saff said.
Representative Caruso has said he intends to push his fellow Republicans to enact a statewide mask mandate in the 2021 session, but a legislative mask mandate would have to survive the governor’s veto pen.
The Governor’s Office told us it has not been contacted by Rep. Caruso yet. We reached out to Rep. Caruso for comment on this story, but did not hear back.
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