(Reuters) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has threatened fines for cities and counties that mandate employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19, which has killed nearly 50,000 people in the state.
“If a government agency in the state of Florida forces a vaccine as a condition to employment, that violates Florida law,” DeSantis said in a press conference.
“And you will face a $5,000 fine for every single violation,” he added. “That’s millions and millions of dollars potentially in fines.”
Florida has recorded more than 3.4 million cases of COVID-19 and over 49,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
Florida is also one of several U.S. states where Republican governors have sought to prevent local governments and school districts from mandating masks. In what has become a highly politicized tussle over COVID-19 precautions, these governors have said that such rules infringe on personal liberty.
Proponents of mask mandates say they are necessary to mitigate the pandemic as cases rise in areas with lower vaccination rates, driven by the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
“We are not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate,” DeSantis said on Monday.
“You don’t just cast aside people who have been serving faithfully … over what is basically a personal choice on their individual health.”
A Florida appeals court ruled in favor of Governor DeSantis on Friday, effectively reinstating his ban on mask mandates in the state’s public schools.
Late in August, the Florida Department of Education withheld funds from two school districts that made masks mandatory in classrooms this fall.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Tom Hogue)