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By way of executive order, Gov. Ron DeSantis eliminated all local COVID-19 restrictions and emergency orders.

DeSantis signed two executive orders May 3 negating all measures, including mask mandates, that, per executive order 21-101, “restrict the rights or liberties of individuals or their businesses … .”

Business owners can still require temperature checks, masks, etc., in their businesses, but governments cannot mandate such measures. These executive orders also do not affect schools. The Volusia County School Board will make a decision on its mask policy in the coming months.

The order, which invalidates all emergency orders passed in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, takes effect July 1.

However, a sister measure, executive order 21-102, suspends, per the order, “all local COVID-19 restrictions and mandates on individuals and businesses” effective immediately.

In short, all COVID-19-related safety measures put in place by West Volusia municipalities are now kaput. DeLand and Orange City, for instance, still have mask ordinances on the books, but these are now null and void. 

“I think that’s the evidence-based thing to do,” DeSantis said in a May 3 press conference, later adding, “We are no longer in a state of emergency.” 

Along with the executive orders, DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 2006, a new law taking aim at emergency powers granted to local governments. 

In addition to prohibiting governmental entities or businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccination documentation, or a “vaccine passport,” before entry to a business or government building, the new law puts limits on a municipality’s ability to call for a state of emergency. 

States of emergency, which must be renewed once every seven days, can now no longer exceed a 42-day duration. For context, the state of Florida has been under a state of emergency since March 9, 2020, or 421 days.

In addition, the governor may, at any time, invalidate any local emergency order.

“As governor, I’ll have the authority to invalidate a local emergency order if it unnecessarily restricts individual rights or liberties,” DeSantis said.

During the May 3 press conference, the governor was met with praise from other Florida Republican leaders for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. While insisting that the pandemic is largely over, DeSantis suggested individuals get vaccinated if they are able. 

“My message is, the vaccine protects you, get vaccinated and live your life as if you’re protected. You don’t have to chafe under protections ad infinitum,” he said. “Even if you’re lower risk, I think that this vaccine has been so effective that even a low-risk person dramatically reduces it.”

According to data from the Florida Department of Health, as of May 2, Volusia County has reported 1,031 new COVID-19 cases since April 28. In addition, as of May 3, 214,264 individuals have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Gov. DeSantis’ executive orders, issued May 3, got a strong reaction from DeLand’s mayor. 

“Today, the governor issued an executive order superseding, suspending, eliminating, whatever phrase you want to use, any local government’s requirements to wear masks or do anything of that nature,” DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar said at the start of the May 3 DeLand City Commission meeting. “We cannot and will not enforce any of that, but I would just urge each and every one of you to do what you are comfortable with as far as wearing your mask and social distancing and all those sorts of things.”

At his announcement, some individuals at the meeting went ahead and removed their masks.

As the City Commission meeting closed, Apgar expressed exasperation with the governor’s orders.

“It’s really going to get harder and harder to get people interested in local government when, day after day, legislative session after session, there’s a taking-away of our abilities to do what we think is in the best interest of our community,” Apgar said. “I’m not debating if it was the right or wrong thing to do, I mean, that’s the governor’s discretion; it’s just another example of a lack of trust in local governments. They’ll sit up there and say you’re the government closest to the people, but we know better.”

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