Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in Florida on Friday, and prohibited local fines against people who refuse to wear masks as he seeks to reopen the state's economy despite the spread of the coronavirus. The Republican governor's order unleashed fresh debate in the politically divided state, where pandemic responses have become intertwined with the upcoming presidential election. DeSantis, a major ally of President Trump, acknowledged that the pandemic is far from over, the AP reports, but he said the threat has eased and the time has come to reopen for business. "We're not closing anything going forward," DeSantis said, while insisting that the state is prepared if infections increase again.
The governor said he would stop cities and counties from fining people not wearing face masks, virtually nullifying mask ordinances. "All fines and penalties that have been applied against individuals are suspended," DeSantis said. Democrats have bemoaned his push to reopen. "No one is advocating for a full-scale lockdown in Florida. But we have been and continue to ask for common sense prevention measures such as face masks, which are essential to preventing further spread," state Sen. Audrey Gibson said. Some local officials want continued authority during the outbreak. "We’re hoping that the governor will allow us to have deeper restrictions than the rest of the state. We have a greater spread of the virus in South Florida than other parts of the state," Broward County Mayor Dale Holness said. (Another governor has tested positive for the coronavirus.)