MIAMI (AP) – As coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket, two Florida mayors are announcing mask and vaccine warrants and defying the governor who is firmly opposed to any pandemic restrictions.
Masks will once again be required at indoor county facilities in the populated city of Miami-Dade, Florida, following new federal guidelines recommending that even people vaccinated against COVID-19 wear face coverings.
And in Orange County, home to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort, the mayor went further and announced that the county’s 4,200 non-union employees will need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of August. and the second by the end of September. Disney World announced on its website Wednesday night that starting July 30, face coverings will be required for all guests ages 2 and older inside and on Disney buses, the monorail and the Disney Skyliner. , regardless of their vaccination status. This includes at the entrance and at all attractions. Face coverings remain optional in outdoor common areas.
“We want to keep our county and our theme parks open for business,” Mayor Jerry Demings said at a press conference Wednesday. “By instituting these measures, we want everyone in Orange County, Florida to know that we take the coronavirus seriously. “
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said her decision was a response to the increase in the number of new cases and hospitalizations. The mayors did not announce any mandate for the companies but begged them to help vaccinate their employees and urged them to implement the use of masks again.
“We have all gone too far. We have all sacrificed too much in those almost a year and a half. We can’t go back now, ”said Levine Cava.
State law signed in May gives Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis the power to overturn local emergency measures put in place during the pandemic, including mask warrants and limitations on business operations. It also prohibits any business or government entity from requiring proof of vaccination. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new local mandates.
For the more than 3,000 unionized workers in Orange County, Demings said officials are negotiating a vaccine requirement similar to that of non-union employees. Some may be exempted for religious or health reasons, but others who do not comply will be subject to disciplinary action, Demings said.
The delta variant of the coronavirus is causing outbreaks of infection across the United States, with Florida accounting for a fifth of the country’s new cases last week, more than any other state, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . Hospitals have seen admissions skyrocket with the vast majority of unvaccinated patients.
On Tuesday, the CDC changed course on some masking guidelines and recommended that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with high transmission. Officials cited new information revealing the ability of the variant to spread among those vaccinated.
Florida’s 67 counties are considered high transmission areas, which means they have recorded more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days.
DeSantis remained staunchly opposed to restrictions, mask warrants and vaccine passports, a position at the heart of his re-election campaign. He was defiant on Wednesday as he criticized the CDC’s new guidelines at a meeting in Salt Lake City of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that pushes conservative policies in Republican-controlled state legislatures.
“I think it’s very important that we say, unequivocally, ‘No to blockades, no to school closings, no to restrictions, no to terms of office,'” he said.
Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running to challenge DeSantis in 2022, has suggested local governments get creative with vaccination measures and campaigns.
“Local governments are handcuffed right now over what they can do,” Fried said at a press conference Wednesday ahead of the two mayors’ announcement. “We’re stuck in a situation where all we can do is give information, encourage people to do what’s right for their community. “
Earlier this week, DeSantis hinted at a bill to oppose mask warrants in schools, a decision that still rests with school districts. The CDC also recommended indoor masks on Tuesday for all teachers and students nationwide, regardless of their immunization status. DeSantis predicted that lawmakers would hold a special session to address the issue, saying “our legislature is very committed to it.”
Members of the Broward County School Board held a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss wearing masks, a day after about two dozen mask opponents disrupted the meeting by screaming and burning masks outside of the building. Board members have agreed to continue requiring masks for at least the start of the school year, making it the first district in the state to do so. Miami-Dade school officials said they were reviewing their mask policy following recent CDC recommendations, but no decision has been made.
Vivian Hug, a Navy veteran, brought her twins with her as she addressed board members, saying she was tired of giving up “freedoms in the name of safety.”
“Please stop the madness. You have already hurt these children who have to wear masks, ”she said before putting her daughter at the microphone. The girl complained that she couldn’t breathe when she was wearing a mask and that she had a headache.
To date, Florida has confirmed nearly 2.5 million cases of the coronavirus. Over 38,000 people have died.
Associated Press editors Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
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