DeSantis suspends local COVID-19 restrictions

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed one bill and two executive orders May 3 during a press conference at a restaurant in St. Petersburg. The orders end local restrictions imposed due to COVID-19.

ST. PETERSBURG — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Monday morning that suspends all remaining local restrictions connected to the COVID-19 pandemic

DeSantis held a press conference at The Big Catch at Salt Creek, 1500 Second St. S. in St. Petersburg, to sign Senate Bill 2006, which gives the governor the power to override local emergency orders. The bill goes into effect July 1.

DeSantis also signed an executive order that overrides local emergency orders, which also would become effective July 1. In the interim, he signed another order suspending local restrictions that “fills the gap” between now and July 1.

Pinellas County currently has an ordinance in place requiring people to wear facial coverings in indoor public places, and requires people to be seated to be served at local restaurants and bars, plus other measures. No word has been received from the county about those requirements.

Pinellas County School Board also has requirements for face coverings, social distancing and other measures for public schools. Pinellas Schools distributed a press release at 9:10 p.m., Monday, clarifying that DeSantis' two executive orders do not apply to school districts. The school district received this information from the Florida Department of Education, the press release states.

"All Pinellas County Schools health and safety protocols remain in effect, including the district's policy regarding face coverings," according to the press release.

Before the signings, DeSantis touted the successes of the legislative session that ended April 30, which included the passing of SB 2006. He said the bill provided a “new construct” for emergency measures used in the state and local governments.

He said before the pandemic, no one could have imagined circumstances that “would allow governments to lock kids out of school for a year, to lock business owners down, to constantly be issuing edicts restricting people, fining people, and doing all this basically infinitum.”

DeSantis said SB 2006 ensures that neither the state nor local government can keep kids out of in-person instruction without continuous justifications.

It restricts local emergency orders, excluding those for hurricanes, to be enacted for a maximum of 42 days with extensions required every seven days. Pinellas has had a local state of emergency in place for well over a year.

The orders suspending COVID-19 restrictions only apply to government, not local businesses, which may still require people to social distance, wear a mask or take other measures.

The governor pointed out the hardships on individuals and local businesses and noted that the state had already waived many of the fines that had been issued for those violating local emergency orders. He said the remainder would be waived soon.

DeSantis talked about the success of the COVID-19 vaccine and said the majority of the adult population in the state had been vaccinated. He said supplies were plentiful ensuring that everyone who wanted the vaccine could get it.

He criticized the federal government for encouraging people that have been vaccinated to continue social distancing and wearing a mask, which he says sends a message that the vaccine doesn’t work.

“My message is the vaccine protects you,” he said. “Get vaccinated. Then live your life as if you’re protected.”

DeSantis said suspending COVID-19 restrictions was an evidence-based course of action.

“People who are policing folks at this point are saying they don’t believe in the vaccine,” he said.

The governor said everyone should get vaccinated, even those at lower risk.

He supports SB 2006. He said if a pandemic were to occur in the future, it would provide the structure needed to ensure that government was more respectful to businesses, schools and people’s personal freedoms.

DeSantis also said that a permanent ban on vaccine passports would go into effect July 1. In the interim, his executive order prohibits their use.

“There’s widespread evidence that the vaccine is 99% effective,” he said. “There’s no evidence there is a need for restrictions. Emergency orders are not justifiable.”