Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hasn’t exactly covered himself in political glory since taking office on January 8, 2019, when the coronavirus pandemic was still in its infancy. Not only boasting early on about Florida’s low case numbers but harshly criticizing anyone who would suggest otherwise.
Even when he was privately warned on March 8 by an ever increasingly panicked CDC that Florida was already experiencing community spread of COVID-19, he would publicly denounce that statement the following day despite going on to confirm the CDC’s warning just six days later.
So, it should come as little to no surprise that on Friday, April 2, DeSantis would sign Executive Order Number 21-81 banning the use of COVID-19 passports in the state. Citing freedom and privacy concerns, the implementation and enforcement of vaccine passports would “create two classes of citizens based on vaccinations.” The order prohibits any government entity from issuing vaccine passports and blocks businesses from requiring any such documentation.
There is always some merit to privacy concerns when a large quantity of personal information is involved but DeSantis doubled down on this by adding in his executive order “Individual COVID-19 vaccination records are private health information and should not be shared by a mandate.” Although new to the job, DeSantis is clearly unaware that current Floridian legislation requires certain vaccines to be administered before children may enroll and attend childcare and school.
The White House were quick to allay any potential public fears, Floridians or otherwise, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki reassuring American’s that there will be no federal mandate that would require every American to get a vaccine credential. However, there will still be some, regardless of the statements coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who believe that the country is still moving towards a Checkpoint Charlie ‘papers please’ regime.
DeSantis’ vaccine related woes don’t end there. On Monday, an episode of 60 Minutes expose of the Florida Governor’s announcement in January that he was partnering with Publix grocery stores across the state to distribute the vaccine in their pharmacies. What raised early concerns was the fact that elderly residents in Palm Beach County, as per the agreement between the Governor and Publix, could no longer get their shot from public health departments and had to go exclusively to Publix pharmacies instead.
The waters get increasingly murkier when it comes to this partnership when 60 Minutes took a closer look at campaign finance reports. A few weeks before DeSantis announced his deal with Publix, one which allows them to bill Medicare $40 per shot to administer the vaccine, the report would reveal that Publix donated $100,000 to his political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis. When his office was contacted for comment regarding this payment, the silence was deafening.
However, DeSantis could not escape answering such a prickly and prevalent question when 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi grilled him at a press conference. She accused the Governor of blatant ‘pay for play’, to which he immediately snapped back that not only was that criticism ‘wrong’ but he would take a leaf out of the Trump playbook and label the accusation as a ‘fake narrative’.
DeSantis would be quick to point out that his administration reached out to other retail pharmacies like Walmart, CVS and Walgreens, insisting that Publix were the ‘first one to raise their hand’ to say they were ready to distribute the vaccine. But was it a hand up or a handout? In addition to uncovering the recent $100,000 donation, 60 Minutes also discovered that this wasn’t the first time DeSantis had received money from the Publix coffers.
In the not too distant past, the heiress to the Publix fortune, Julie Jenkins Fancelli, gave $55,000 to the governor’s PAC, as well as her brother-in-law, Hoyt R. Barnett, a retired Publix executive, donating $25,000 just last November. A few have criticized 60 Minutes reporting by saying they cut out several minutes of the governor’s comments explaining what led to the deal with Publix. However, the revelations about the recent Publix donations have left many eyebrows still firmly in their upright position.