WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed last year that Florida would never go back after a statewide shutdown to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
If his words at the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual meeting in Utah are any indication, he's holding true to that stance, even as Florida leads the nation in COVID-19 variant cases.
Florida's Republican governor took shots at the nation's public health agency and its top doctor during an appearance Wednesday in Salt Lake City, soundly rejecting mask mandates that have been springing up throughout the country again amid a summer surge in cases.
"Did you not get the CDC's memo?" DeSantis asked the crowd of mostly unmasked attendees at the public policy conference. "I don't see you guys complying."
His comments elicited laughter from the crowd.
"And I say that jokingly, but I think that that may be a sign of potentially seeking to do more things into the future, and I think it's very important that we say, unequivocally, no to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions and no mandates," DeSantis continued.
New guidelines from the CDC now state that even vaccinated people should wear masks in areas of substantial or high transmission. This applies in Florida, where all but one county is considered to be a high level of community transmission. The lone outlier -- Glades County -- has a substantial level of community transmission.
"Floridians are free to choose -- and all Americans should be free to choose -- how they govern their affairs, how they take care of themselves and our families, and they should not be consigned to live -- regardless of which state in the union -- consigned to live in a Faucian dystopia in which we're governed by the whims of bureaucratic authorities who care little for our freedom, little for our aspirations and little for our happiness. No more. We can't let it happen going forward."
His verbal assault was directed at Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.
DeSantis has found favor among his supporters by opposing Fauci's view on mask-wearing. Fauci initially said early on last year that masks weren't necessary before later recommending that people do so.
The governor, whose stock is rising in the Republican Party, has capitalized on Fauci's words, selling drink koozies and T-shirts on his official campaign website that read, "Don't Fauci My Florida."
Another koozie features a quote from DeSantis that says, "How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?"
DeSantis is already facing opposition from several Democrats vying to take him on in 2022, including former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who later became an independent and then a Democrat, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has aggressively challenged the governor on his response to the pandemic.