The Department of Health (DOH) has faced pressure from six Florida school districts over its current rule barring educational institutions from forcing asymptomatic and non-mask-wearing students to carry out their education in a remote environment.
These six school districts allege the rule was imposed with no adherence to the regular rulemaking process, but rather was promulgated on an emergency basis.
In response, the DOH has proposed a long-term rule that could permanently prevent school districts from making students wear masks, thus allowing parents to decide for themselves if their children should "mask up."
In addition to this, the DOH has faced controversy over its stringent enforcement of Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on vaccine passports in the state. DeSantis, a Catholic, has been lauded by conservatives, who believe he's protecting civil liberty.
Last week, the DOH issued a notice of violation to Leon County, which covers Tallahassee and the surrounding area. The department alleged the county had violated the vaccine passport law on 714 instances by forcing employees to prove their vaccination status. The DOH assessed Leon County's violations to amount to a fine totaling $3.5 million.
Florida's surgeon general Dr. Joseph Ladapo argued in support of issuing the notice, saying, "Firing hardworking employees over vaccine passports has real and lasting consequences. It leads to resentment in the workplace, and loss of employment impacts individual and public health. ... The department will continue to enforce this law."
The official statement from the DOH encouraged any other counties in violation of the law to reverse course quickly. It detailed how, after the city of Gainesville was alerted by the DOH of its possible violation of the vaccine passport ban, "the Florida Department of Health received a response indicating the city of Gainesville rescinded its employee vaccine mandate."
It is clear that the DOH's proactive enforcement of DeSantis' law is pressuring any disobedient counties into compliance.
While the DOH has been supportive of preventing county-level vaccine passports, the department has also continuously pushed back on mask mandates in the school systems, allowing Florida parents to decide what's best for their children. DeSantis and the DOH are working together to protect parents from having to force their children to wear masks and to protect them from fear of federal investigation if they voice their concerns at school board meetings.
This comes following the Biden Department of Justice's recent calls for the FBI to profile or investigate parents questioning the status quo at school board meetings. Speaking Wednesday afternoon, DeSantis said, "We're not going to be cooperating with any types of federal investigation into parents, and we'll do anything we can to thwart such investigations. We are going to be fortifying the Parents' Bill of Rights."
DeSantis and the Florida DOH's work has been praised by many across social media. Conservative commentator Buck Sexton voiced his support for DeSantis by tweeting out a COVID map from The New York Times that shows Florida to have the "lowest case rate in the lower 48."
United States representative Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, also praised Florida for its low COVID cases and medical freedom. Jordan has remarked that New York has less freedom, more mandates and COVID cases rising, "but the media won't tell you that."