By Rich McKay
(Reuters) -Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on Friday blocking mask mandates in the state’s schools, saying parents had the right to decide if their children would wear face coverings.
The move by DeSantis, a Republican who has opposed strict COVID-19 rules on residents and businesses, overrules a requirement by two Florida counties, Broward and Gadsen, that students cover their faces when they return to class next month.
“In Florida, there will be no lockdowns, there will be no school closures, there will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in announcing his executive order during a speech in southwest Cape Coral.
Walt Disney Co., which operates the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, ordered all U.S. salaried and non-union hourly employees to get the COVID vaccine.
Disney on Thursday said all guests to the theme park would be required to wear masks.
Mask orders and mandatory vaccines in the United States have drawn stiff opposition from conservatives who say such steps violate constitutional freedoms.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing a surge in coronavirus infections linked to the more contagious Delta variant, has urged all students, teachers and staff to wear masks when the school year begins regardless of vaccine status.
The move by DeSantis puts him at odds with local political leaders in Miami-Dade and Orange counties, and the city of Palm Beach, all of whom previously defied his orders suspending all COVID-19 clampdowns and prohibiting mask and vaccine mandates.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said this week the county would again require all adults, vaccinated or not, to wear masks when inside county buildings and facilities. Palm Beach, home to former President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort and residence, did the same on Monday.
In Orange County, home to Disney World, Mayor Jerry Demings said all 4,200 nonunion county employees would be required to get the vaccine, with a deadline for a first dose by Aug. 31.
“We want to keep our county and theme parks open for business,” Demings said at a news conference Wednesday, adding the measures will ensure everyone knows that Orange County takes COVID seriously.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Dan Whticomb in Los Angeles; editing by Diane Craft, Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio)