Rep. Charlie Crist on Tuesday urged Florida to follow the lead of the White House and require government employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Crist, a Democratic candidate for governor, called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to take the step immediately to help slow the spread of the virus in Florida, now the epicenter of the nation’s ongoing pandemic.
“If Disney, Walmart, and our military can do it, our state government can as well,” Crist said in a statement. “The fact of the matter is that there is no reason for Florida to once again be in this position. It’s time to stop playing games and get serious about ending this pandemic once and for all.”
President Joe Biden announced Thursday that federal employees and contractors will have to attest to being inoculated or will be forced to wear a mask and undergo regular COVID-19 testing. New York and California took similar steps for their workforce, as have several large companies, including Disney. Other states, like New Jersey, are considering more targeted mandates for people who work in health care and first responders.
But DeSantis isn’t considering a vaccine mandate of any kind, spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said, noting that some people have medical or religious reasons for choosing to forgo the shot. She also said that people who have natural immunity from prior infection are already protected.
“Gov. DeSantis does not believe it is the state’s role to make personal medical decisions for individuals,” Pushaw said. She added that the vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing serious illness and death “should be motivation to for (sic) people to choose to get vaccinated.”
Vaccination rates in Florida have plateaued since DeSantis’ early push to get shots into the arms of seniors. About 49 percent of Floridians are fully vaccinated, which is middle of the pack among states, according to the Mayo Clinic. The leading states, Maine and Vermont, have vaccinated about two-thirds of their populations.
Florida now accounts for about one in four of the country’s COVID cases and hospitalizations, and the state leads the United States in children hospitalized with the virus.
Speaking from South Florida on Tuesday, DeSantis downplayed the recent spike in cases as “media hysteria” and maintained that Florida will remain open and masks will not be required in schools when they open later this month.
DeSantis’ approach has drawn consistent criticism from political opponents. Another 2022 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, has become a fixture providing coronavirus updates on local and cable news. She said she would not require Floridians to wear masks but believes DeSantis is wrong to ban school boards and local governments from making community decisions about mask mandates and other public health precautions.