Gov. Ron DeSantis used executive action to ban vaccine passports and end all local COVID-19 emergency orders on Monday.
"We are no longer in a state of emergency," DeSantis said at a press conference in St. Petersburg.
The governor also signed legislation to the same effect, but he said the new order would "bridge the gap" until the legislation becomes effective on July 1. The order includes language that will limit any local emergency orders to seven-day increments and allows DeSantis to invalidate a local order if it denies rights and liberties to those affected. It does not prevent businesses from implementing mask mandates.
DeSantis said the local emergency orders have remained in effect too long.
"If you would have told us three years ago, when I was running for governor, 'Hey, there's going to be a pandemic,' that would have obviously been something that people would have been concerned about," DeSantis said. "But I don't think anyone at that time would have thought that the fact that you would have a pandemic would allow governors to seize power to lock kids out of school for a year, to lock businesses down, to constantly be issuing edicts, restricting people, fining people, doing all this basically infinitum."
DeSantis touted Florida's approach to the pandemic and said the state's economic prospects have improved as a results.
"We are focused on lifting people up," DeSantis said.
The governor said his rationale for having a state of emergency at all hinged on three components: keeping schools open, moving money in case of response needs, and preventing vaccine passport requirements.
The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) considered ending its order last month but ultimately decided to extend it to May 12. BOCC Chair Ken Cornell said the board is still collecting information on the implications of the governor's order, but he did not see it as a big change to the county's plans.
"Our local EO was scheduled to expire on May 12th, so this appears to accelerate that expiration by approximately one week," Cornell said.
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe expressed a mixed reaction to Monday's news: “While this is a great sign that we are heading towards putting the world back in place, and I know that, locally at least, we are all excited, I am hesitant to celebrate what will surely end up being one more nail in the coffin of home rule.”
According to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, Florida has documented about 171,000 COVID cases and 1,682 deaths over the last month, numbers that have dropped by more than half since January highs. Almost 6 million Floridians are fully vaccinated, which equates to roughly 28 percent of the population.