DeSantis challenger Nikki Fried says she does not support statewide mask mandate in Florida

Nikki Fried, the Florida state agriculture commissioner and one of the Democrats challenging Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisPresident Biden's vaccination plan is Constitutional – and necessary Faith leaders call on Congress to lead the response to a global pandemic Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE (R) next year, on Monday said that she does not support a statewide mask mandate as the Florida emerges as the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.

In an interview on CNN’s “New Day,” Fried ruled out any state-level directive requiring Floridians to wear masks but said that the governor should empower local governments and school boards to make such decisions on their own. 

“Every county needs to make their own decisions,” Fried said when asked whether she would support a statewide mask mandate. “No statewide mask mandate, but I certainly would want every school board to have the power to make the right decisions for their own communities.”

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Fried, the only Democratic statewide elected official in Florida, also criticized DeSantis and the Republican-controlled state Legislature, which passed a bill earlier this year limiting local leaders’ authority to impose coronavirus-related restrictions. 

“Our local governments and our corporations are the ones that got us through this pandemic in 2020. But, unfortunately, this governor also has handicapped our local governments by not allowing them to do any kind of restrictions, whether it’s mask mandates or curfews or trying to put out correct information.”

New COVID-19 infections in Florida have spiraled in recent weeks as the delta variant has gripped the country. The rise in cases in the state now makes up some 20 percent of all new cases nationwide.

Despite the surge in infections, DeSantis has remained firmly opposed to new pandemic-related restrictions. He signed an executive order last week making face masks optional in schools and putting the decision in the hands of parents. 

Fried hammered DeSantis over that decision on Monday, saying that local school boards should be making decisions on masking in concert with parents, especially amid reports of an uptick in COVID-19 infections in children.  

“We know that hospitalizations are up across our state, that we’re seeing more and more cases of our children testing positive,” Fried said. “It is up to us to let our local school boards, ones that are elected from their local communities, be making these decisions with the parents.”