TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis lashed out at President Joe Biden a day after Biden told the Republican governor to “get out of the way” of mask mandates.
During a stop in Panama City on Wednesday, DeSantis accused Biden of “helping facilitate” COVID-19 by not securing the border with Mexico. He said immigrants crossing the border are spreading variants of the virus.
“You have hundreds of thousands of people pouring across every month,” DeSantis said. “Not only are they letting them through, they’re farming them out all across the country, putting them on planes, putting them on buses. Do you think they’re worrying about COVID for that? Of course not.”
DeSantis said the immigrants are crossing the border from all over the world, and “whatever variants there are around the world, they’re coming across that southern border.”
“He’s not shutting down the virus. He’s helping facilitate it,” DeSantis said of Biden.
“Why don’t you get this border secure,” DeSantis added. “Until you do that, I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID from you.”
DeSantis’ comments came after Biden on Tuesday criticized the governor’s opposition to mask mandates.
“Look, we need leadership from everyone. If some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it,” Biden said in remarks about the pandemic. “I say to these governors, please help. But if you are not going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”
DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw said later Wednesday that it was impossible to know the extent of COVID-19 variants among migrants.
“Unfortunately, no one has complete information on the number of COVID-19 positive migrants or possible variants, because the federal government is neglecting its duty to secure the border,” Pushaw said in a statement.
Amid a rising number of border crossings this year, the Biden administration announced this week it would leave in place a public health rule that has allowed it to turn away hundreds of thousands of migrants.
The administration was planning on lifting the rule, adopted by former President Donald Trump last year, according to the New York Times. But on Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that noncitizens migrating to the U.S. from Mexico or Canada “creates a serious danger of the introduction of COVID-19 into the United States.”
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On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration was planning on offering coronavirus vaccines to migrants in custody at the Mexico border, where health officials are struggling with soaring numbers of infections.
In Florida, which leads the nation in infections and hospitalizations fueled by the delta variant, DeSantis has attributed the state’s uptick in cases to seasonal factors and rejected calls to impose a mask mandate. He last week signed an executive order threatening to withhold state funds from school districts that put mask mandates in place to follow federal health guidance for areas experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.
On Wednesday, DeSantis doubled down on his opposition to such mandates, saying that “we can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state.”
“I can tell you, Florida, we’re a free state,” he said. “If you’re coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I’m standing in your way.”