TAMPA, Fla. - The federal government is considering new rules and potentially new restrictions on domestic travel that could impact Floridians, drawing the ire of Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Sunshine State politicians.
"To be clear, there have been no decisions made around additional public health measures for domestic travel safety. The administration is continuing to discuss recommendations across the travel space, but no specific decisions are under consideration," according to a White House statement.
Florida accounts for more than a third of all cases in the country of the B-117 variant, the highly infectious so-called UK strain.
Florida has also come under national scrutiny in recent weeks as images of maskless crowds swarmed Tampa to celebrate the Super Bowl.
Despite heightened mask and social distancing rules put in place for the two weeks leading up to the big game and for the Super Bowl parade, many fans simply ignored the local ordinance.
While Tampa cheered on the Bucs, Biden administration officials told the Associated Press new domestic travel restrictions that could impact Florida are under consideration. They’re worried with travel to Florida on the rise, the highly infectious UK variant of coronavirus will soon be on the rise in other states as well.
"Florida is predicted to be the first state to have its B-117 variant as its dominant strain and that will probably happen early March," explained USF Health epidemiologist Dr. Michael Teng, who says it’s important for everyone to stay on top of safety measures as the country works to roll out the vaccine to everyone. "The only thing that's missing is a concerted effort by the public to by us some time so that these vaccines can come out."
Since taking office last month, President Biden’s administration has been exploring ways to mitigate the spread of new coronavirus variants. Biden started with a national mask requirement on public transportation.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky have also said they’re looking into COVID-19 testing requirements for all domestic flights.
The White House restrictions are being contemplated as Canada, a big source of Florida’s foreign visitors, announced that starting Monday, people arriving by land will have to show negative COVID-19 tests from within the previous 72 hours.
No specifics have been given on what kind of travel restrictions they could be considering for Florida, nonetheless, Senator Marco Rubio issued a strongly worded response in a letter to the president on Wednesday.
"Instituting a travel ban, or any restriction of movement between the states, would be an outrageous, authoritarian move that has no basis in law or science. Instead, it would only serve to inflict severe and devastating economic pain on an already damaged economy," Rubio wrote. "If you are concerned about the coronavirus spread in Florida, I urge you to fast track additional vaccines to the state instead of attempting to cripple our economy."
DeSantis was also quick to push back against any possible travel restrictions to areas, including Florida, that have seen a surge in cases involving variants of COVID-19 and was emphatic that current vaccines are effective against the B-117 variant.
Speaking in Port Charlotte Thursday, the governor called the White House travel restriction proposal absurd and potentially unconstitutional.
"We will oppose it 100 percent. It would not be based in science," he claimed. "It would purely be a political attack against the people of Florida."