A trio of physicians criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday for calling lawmakers into Special Session to pass bills barring private and public employers from enacting blanket vaccine mandates, as well as schools from requiring students to wear masks.
Part of the national organization the Committee to Protect Health Care, the physicians said the Governor should, instead, use his influence to promote vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone age 5 and older receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC also recommends and encourages people to wear masks while indoors.
“Our concern as doctors and health professionals who have cared for Floridians throughout the pandemic is that the Governor will continue to push dangerous policies that will needlessly expose Floridians to more infections and outbreaks while completely undermining safety strategies that we know keep all of us safer,” said Jennifer Cowart, a Jacksonville internist and member of the Committee to Protect Health Care. “Those strategies are more masks and more vaccinations. This Special Session will only give unnecessary oxygen to disinformation and public confusion about the best way to stay safe against COVID-19.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, 60,698 Floridians have died from COVID-19, according to the CDC. In all, there have been 3,669,489 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state.
DeSantis called a surprise Special Session last month. And after behind-the-scenes negotiations, the House and Senate released four identical bills last week: HB 1B and SB 2B would prohibit private employers as well as public schools and local governments from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations; HB 3B and SB 4B would shield from public view any complaint filed by an employee to the Attorney General’s office against a business accused of violating the proposed new law on vaccine mandates; HB 5B and SB6B would create the Florida Occupational Safety and Health State Plan to eventually replace federal oversight; while HB 7B and SB 8B would repeal the state Surgeon General’s authority to order mandatory vaccinations against diseases that pose a severe danger to public health.
Miami cardiologist and state lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care, Bernard Ashby, warned DeSantis’ policies are politically driven, and will increase the number of people in the state who are infected or put at risk of contracting COVID-19.
“The best way to reopen businesses and schools safely, as science and evidence show again and again, is to get everyone to wear a mask indoors, and get people vaccinated with the safe, effective shot,” Ashby said.
The Committee to Protect Health Care and Democrats have criticized the Session as a way to appeal to DeSantis’ Republican base. But other groups in recent days have also expressed concern. Specifically, the National Federation of Independent Business Florida worries about the broad scope of HB 1B, and the elder living industry group Leading Age Florida worries HB 1B is in conflict with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rules that require facilities that rely on federal health care funds to vaccinate their staff.
Meanwhile, Gainesville physician Frederick Southwick said it’s folly to make fighting a contagious virus a political game.
“The real emergency in Florida right now is Gov. Ron DeSantis’ failure to implement robust, evidence-based safety measures to rein in COVID-19 and protect people,” Southwick said. “The coronavirus doesn’t know the difference between a Republican and a Democrat. If you ignore the signs of infection control, you can become infected and die.”