Florida GOP Rules Out COVID Curbs Despite Joe Biden, Anthony Fauci Warnings

Leading Florida Republicans have dismissed coronavirus warnings from President Joe Biden and his chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci as the Sunshine State looks to end pandemic restrictions and boost businesses ravaged by a year of turmoil.

Biden warned last week that rushing to lift all pandemic restrictions could prompt a spike in new cases and result in curbs being reimposed, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis rejected his warning while Sen. Rick Scott declared his home state "open for business."

On Wednesday, DeSantis—considered a top contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination—signed an executive order canceling all fines issued by local government for individual or business violation of mask and other coronavirus restrictions.

DeSantis has been a leading voice in demanding the end to restrictions to boost economic activity in Florida. The governor said at his State of the State address on March 2: "Enough of this, we've got to put people back to work." He added: "But I just worry going forward, when would some of this end?"

Biden expressed cautious optimism last week that Americans would be able to gather for July 4 celebrations, having weathered the worst of the pandemic. But the president added: "If we don't say vigilant and the conditions change, then we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track."

DeSantis gave the warning short shrift Friday. "To even contemplate doing any type of lockdown, honestly it's insane," DeSantis said during a press conference. "That's not gonna happen in the state of Florida," DeSantis added. "We're gonna continue doing what works, but under no circumstances would we entertain anything of the sort."

And on Sunday, Scott wrote on Twitter that Florida "is open for business and working to bring visitors back safely," rallying support for his bid to make Daylight Saving Time permanent.

A handful of states are now loosening coronavirus restrictions, with Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Montana and Iowa all removing their statewide mask mandates. Proponents of opening up have touted the vaccine rollout as a guard against more waves of infection, though it will still be some time until all Americans are inoculated.

In Florida, for example, just over 20 percent of the state's population has so far received their first of two vaccination shots, according to The New York Times. Just over 11 percent are fully vaccinated.

The pandemic has so far killed more than 32,000 and infected some 2 million people in Florida. Authorities have registered around 5,000 new cases daily over the past two weeks, down from a peak of almost 20,000 each day in early January.

With cases on the way down, the Florida GOP tweeted this week: "Simply put, @GovRonDeSantis got it right. Shutdowns do not work."

Fauci warned this week that it was premature for such states to ease up on coronavirus guards. "We understand people's need to get back to normal, and we're going in that direction," the chief medical adviser said.

"But when you start doing things like completely putting aside all public health measures as if you're turning a light switch off, that's quite risky...We don't want to see another surge, and that's inviting one when you do that."

Americans remain concerned about the virus as cases fall and vaccines become increasingly available, and mostly supportive of Biden's efforts to refocus America's response after a year of chaos under former President Donald Trump.

But recent polling shows a significant partisan divide, one that leading Republicans will be hoping to play on as they maneuver for the 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race.

According to the FiveThirtyEight polls tracker, just over 61 percent of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response versus 32 percent who disapprove. The vast majority of Democrats—91 percent—approve, but only 30 percent of Republicans feel the same. Around 58 percent of independents approve of the new administration's coronavirus performance to date.

Biden has called for national unity to push through what appear to be the final months of the pandemic, though his Republicans opponents have reacted with skepticism.

The president's $1.9 trillion stimulus package, for example, was welcomed by most Americans. But the GOP said the fact that zero Republicans voted in favor speaks to the administration's refusal to find bipartisan solutions to America's most pressing problems.

In response, the administration has pointed to the polls showing broad bipartisan support for the package among voters. The lack of Republican support, they say, shows that the post-Trump GOP—still grappling with internal conflicts and its future identity—is not interested in cooperation.

Beachgoers pictured in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
People walk on the beach on March 4, 2021 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images