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The Politics of COVID-19

COVID Pensacola.jpg
City of Pensacola
A City of Pensacola employee receives the COVID-19 vaccine in August.

Masks and vaccines appear to be dividing Americans, including Floridians

In his weekly news conference, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson offered updates on COVID-19 in the area, along with addressing the politics of face coverings and vaccinations.

“The positivity rate is 24.9%, which is obviously where we know we need to continue to work to get that down; and we hope to see that happen,” said Mayor Grover Robinson on Monday, providing the latest local COVID-19 numbers — including a new high of 396 hospitalizations on Sunday, and 386 as of Monday, according to the area’s three major hospitals.

“The good news, if there’s any, is that at least the local growth has not been as expediential as it was before, but it continues to go up,” Robinson said. “And we think we could be experiencing this for a couple of more weeks before we get on top of it.”

As long as the pandemic has plagued us — now more than a year and a half — it’s also had a political side. Heading into the 2022 election cycle, two of the largest practitioners are two candidates for governor Democrat Nikki Fried, and Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis.

“[President] Joe Biden suggests if you don’t do lockdown policies when you should ‘get out of the way;’ but let me tell you this: if you’re coming for the rights of parents in Florida, I’m standing in your way,” DeSantis told supporters earlier this month.

An executive order from the governor bans any mask mandate, especially in Florida’s public schools, contending it’s a matter of “parental rights.” He’s also threatening to withhold state funding from school districts that order face coverings, and withholding paychecks from teachers and administrators who do the same.

“I think that they really believe government should rule over the parents’ decisions, and I think the parents’ decisions in this regard should ultimately be what is done,” DeSantis said last week in Pensacola. “The fact of the matter is, the parents are in the best position to know what’s best for their kids.”

A judge in Tallahassee is set to hear arguments Thursday on a lawsuit filed by parents of children from seven counties, challenging the legality of DeSantis’ executive order.

“Look at our schools boards — all they’re trying to do is protect their students and the people that are in our school system,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “[DeSantis] is masking around, and walking around with anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, and sending the wrong message to the people of our state.”

Fried -- the lone statewide-elected Democrat – claims the governor’s executive order is also hitting Floridians off-campus as well.

“He’s hamstrung not only our local governments, [but also] our businesses, who are the ones who that stood up to him last year and did what was right for their communities,” Fried said. “They’re not able to do that today.”

Thanks to the DeSantis executive order, Mayor Grover Robinson says no mask mandate will be implemented in Pensacola.

“We’re going to operate within the law; the law at this point doesn’t allow us to do that,” said Robinson. “The law does allow – through our charter – we are able to institute our own facilities and do our own stuff with our own primary facilities. So we’re evaluating that.”

After a history of vaccines accepted by Americans, for smallpox, polio, measles, diphtheria, and other diseases, Robinson says it’s been a surprise that so many are refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine for political reasons.

“I don’t think anybody anticipated that; the question is: when does the public begin to worry less about the politics of the vaccine and more about the real health concerns?” the mayor said. “I’m a registered Republican — I got vaccinated. And I think you shouldn’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t do stuff for my health because of politics.’”

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.