Gov. Ron DeSantis railed against possible travel restrictions imposed by the federal government amid concerns about coronavirus mutations, saying during a Thursday news conference that such a move would be “unconstitutional” and “unwise.”
President Joe Biden’s administration is considering domestic travel restrictions as it eyes variant strains of the coronavirus that could be more contagious or more resistant to current vaccines, according to the Miami Herald. But it does not appear that any policy decisions are imminent, with federal officials telling reporters that decisions would be made in partnership with local and state governments.
Florida has reported the most known cases of the B.1.1.7 strain of the coronavirus of any state; the variant, which was initially reported in the United Kingdom, is not known to be more deadly but is more contagious and is widely expected to become the country’s dominant strain within months.
DeSantis, who has been outspoken in his resistance to public health efforts that could hamper Florida’s economy, made his distaste for domestic travel restrictions clear Thursday.
“Any attempt to restrict or lock down Florida by the federal government would be an attack on our state done purely for political purposes,” DeSantis said during a Port Charlotte news conference. The Biden administration’s discussions of travel restrictions did not appear to specifically target Florida, according to the Herald.
DeSantis himself politicized the issue, contrasting the travel measures, which he said restrict “the right of Americans to travel freely,” with the federal government “allowing” undocumented immigrants to “pour across the southern border unmolested.”
The federal government, however, allows no such thing along the southern border. The Biden administration said Wednesday that it will continue to turn away most migrants at the border.
Later Thursday, the Republican Party of Florida sent out a fundraising message to supporters playing up opposition to potential travel restrictions. The message, which said it was from DeSantis, asserted that “Biden is trying to shut FL’s border while letting illegals pour across the southern border.”
DeSantis, himself, is no stranger to travel restrictions. Early in the pandemic, he issued executive orders requiring incoming travelers from the New York area and Louisiana — which at the time were hotspots for the coronavirus — to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. Those restrictions are gone now.
The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association released a statement Thursday following DeSantis’ news conference that echoed DeSantis and said travel restrictions to Florida “would erase the small steps toward recovery that Florida hotels and restaurants have made.”
The statement, released by Association President and CEO Carol Dover, said that restricting people from coming to Florida “would absolutely kill the economic progress we have made in recent months. As more vaccines are distributed, we are confident that even more people will want to travel to Florida, and we are more than ready and eager to welcome them.”
Thursday’s news conference was the latest in what lately has become a regular feature of DeSantis’ schedule to announce pop-up vaccination efforts in different parts of the state as a way to tout the state’s efforts in getting vaccines to the state’s bloc of 65 and older residents.
He announced Thursday a plan to work with the state’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs to identify World War II and Korean War veterans who may be homebound and not able to travel to get COVID-19 vaccines. Eligible people can sign up at floridavets.org/homeboundveterans/.
He said there are an estimated 30,000 World War II veterans and 100,000 Korean War veterans living in Florida, although many of them are not homebound.
“They put their lives on the line for their country,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to make sure these veterans get vaccinated.”
As of Thursday, nearly 2.2 million Floridians had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to state data. Nearly three-quarters are people aged 65 and older.
To date, Florida has reported more than 1.8 million cases of the coronavirus and nearly 29,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
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