OPINION: Florida legislators should consider COVID-19 when reopening to international tourists

With the summer’s highest COVID-19 death rate in the country, Florida needs to prioritize safety over tourism as borders reopen. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/PIXABAY

Florida reported the highest COVID-19 summer death rate in the nation, passing 18,000 deaths since June due to the delta variant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) ongoing community profile reports

Florida legislators who politicized mitigation measures and vaccinations instead of encouraging them are partially responsible for this outcome.

With U.S., Canadian and Mexican land borders opening back up to vaccinated foreigners in November, it is crucial that Florida legislators prioritize safety in one of the country’s biggest tourism states by enforcing mask mandates and social distancing.

Florida’s Republican legislators seeking reelection have used masks as a political talking point instead of prioritizing public safety. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 21-175 on July 30, banning mask mandates in schools based on the misinformation that masks don’t decrease COVID-19 transmission. He also failed to encourage vaccinations in Florida early on in the pandemic, waiting until July to make a public statement in favor of vaccinations.

As a result of this rhetoric, many Floridians are not utilizing life-saving mitigation measures at their disposal. This led to Florida having the highest COVID-19 death rate in the U.S. during the delta variant surge this summer.

U.S. land borders are opening to vaccinated travelers in November, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. With Florida being a prime tourist location in the fall and winter months, receiving an average of 30 million tourists during the holiday season, according to VisitFlorida, it is crucial that Florida’s leadership enforces mitigation measures for citizens and tourists alike.

Walt Disney World increased its capacity in August from the 35% cap established in the beginning of the pandemic. It’s estimated Disney admits as many as 100,000 visitors per day across all four theme parks. As borders reopen, the number of guests is bound to increase, as well as COVID-19 cases, since Walt Disney World doesn’t currently enforce masks.

While travel restrictions are only lifted for vaccinated travelers, the delta variant is semi-tolerant, and transmission and breakthrough infection for vaccinated individuals is possible, according to the CDC. As such, an influx of tourists without enforced mitigation measures could lead to a huge outbreak in Florida.

Florida legislators need to enforce mitigation measures in Florida. Mask-wearing, social distancing and getting vaccinated are great ways to improve the safety of tourists and locals alike as Florida experiences an influx of tourism this fall.

As the tourist industry opens back up to international guests, Floridians should be protected against the delta variant. Rather than spreading politically-charged misinformation, legislators should prioritize the safety of their constituents.