In Utah speech, Florida’s Ron DeSantis mocks new CDC recommendation on masks

He headlined first day of ALEC conference in Salt Lake City.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the American Legislative Exchange Council annual meeting July 28, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Florida’s hard-charging governor dismissed new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that even vaccinated people should wear face masks in public if they live in states where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly.

Standing before 450 largely unmasked attendees at a conservative public policy conference in Salt Lake City, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “Did you not get the CDC’s memo? I don’t see you complying.”

DeSantis, a Republican with presidential ambitions, touted his state’s rejection of mask mandates and school closures during his 15-minute speech Wednesday to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

He warned that the CDC’s latest guidance, which also urged every schoolchild to wear a mask, may be the start of further government steps to combat the latest surge in cases.

“It is very important,” he said, “that we say unequivocally no to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions and no to mandates.”

DeSantis’ comments come as Florida is getting hit hard by the virus, particularly the more contagious delta variant. Recently, Florida accounted for 20% of all new cases in the nation.

The governor blamed it on “a summer COVID season.”

For its part, Utah is not yet taking any steps to follow the CDC’s recommendations on masks, although Dr. Angela Dunn, the executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department supported it. In tweets, Dunn, formerly the state epidemiologist, said asking the vaccinated to wear a mask will help stop those people from spreading the virus to those who are unvaccinated.

“If most of our eligible population gets vaccinated, we will decrease spread and not need masks,” she wrote. “Until then, we need to stop the spread with masks, too.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, has been vaccinated and encourages people to get the shot, but he’s frustrated by the latest CDC counsel, calling it a “flip-flop” after the easing of mask recommendations just a few months ago.

“We should continue to build public confidence in the vaccine’s effectiveness. The CDC’s unnecessary guidance only serves to erode that confidence,” the congressman said in a statement. “Consistent and science-based public health guidance, as well as a respect for personal liberty, will allow us to continue making progress. If you are vulnerable to the virus or particularly concerned, you are free to get vaccinated, wear a mask, or stay at home. Freedom is the answer — not the heavy hand of government.”

DeSantis was the headlining speaker on the first day of ALEC’s annual meeting. The group is a conservative organization, backed by leading corporations, that brings lawmakers together to draft model policies that are then pushed in legislatures like Utah’s and across the country.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, addresses the American Legislative Exchange Council annual meeting July 28, 2021 at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

ALEC’s national chairman is Stuart Adams, Utah’s Senate president. After DeSantis’ speech, Adams thanked the Florida governor for the example he has set for others.

According to his schedule, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox attended a lunch with DeSantis held at the home of Scott and Karen Keller, shortly before the speech.

Scott Keller, a real estate investor from Centerville, is a regular donor to Republican politicians, the state party and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

DeSantis has not yet announced if he’ll run for reelection as governor in 2022. Still, he has a political machine up and running, and he’s been a prolific fundraiser. In his most recent report, he had $44 million in available cash.