The Republican’s order unleashed fresh debate in the politically divided state, where pandemic responses have become intertwined with the upcoming presidential election. DeSantis acknowledged that the pandemic is far from over, but said the threat has eased.
“We’re not closing anything going forward,” DeSantis said, while insisting that the state is prepared if infections increase again.
The governor said he would stop cities and counties from collecting fines on people who don’t wear face masks.
“As an act of executive grace, all fines and penalties that have been applied against individuals are suspended,” the governor said.
Democrats bemoaned the push to reopen as hasty.
“No one is advocating for a full-scale lockdown in Florida. But we have been and continue to ask for common sense prevention measures such as face masks, which are essential to preventing further spread,” state senator Audrey Gibson said.
Florida has long been a Covid-19 hotspot, with nearly 700,000 infected. Nearly 14,000 have died.
The governor reluctantly closed bars and nightclubs on St Patrick’s Day and days later restricted restaurants to take-out dining. Amusement parks ground to a halt. The closures battered the economy. More than 2.5 million Floridians have sought unemployment benefits.
DeSantis has been under pressure to revive the economy – much of it dependent on tourism. Like Trump, DeSantis has questioned the efficacy of closures, arguing that states that had more aggressively shut down, including California, have fared no better.
California has had more than 800,000 coronavirus cases and more than 15,000 deaths. While California has suffered slightly more infections and deaths, its population is nearly twice that of Florida.
“The state of Florida is probably the most open big state in the country,” DeSantis boasted, nonetheless, on Friday.
New infections in Florida have steadily declined since a peak in July. Florida added 2,847 confirmed cases on Friday, pushing its total to 695,887. The state also announced 120 new deaths, pushing its total to 14,038.