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Exploring Florida’s ‘Medical Freedom’: How Changes in Facial Covering Protocol Impact Health Care Settings

In a move towards what Governor Ron DeSantis positions as Florida’s era of ‘medical freedom’ post-COVID, one of his health departments is introducing a new rule that could enable some patients, visitors, and health care professionals to choose not to wear masks. Under the title ‘Protection from Discrimination Based on Health Care Choices’, a rule proposed by The Agency for Health Care Administration following the 2023 legislation, determines requirements and exceptions for wearing facial coverings. Its application would span ‘healthcare settings’ including both hospitals and doctor’s clinics. The rule was published in the April edition of the Florida Administrative Register.

In accordance with the 2023 law, businesses, and governmental bodies, were restricted from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements. Enacted as part of the ‘medical freedom’ package, these additional restrictions were intended to prevent the formation of a ‘biomedical security state’ in Florida, as Governor DeSantis stated at the time of signing the bills into law in 2023. His response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a key talking point during his campaign for Republication nomination for president. In 2021, DeSantis adopted stringent stances on masks, social distancing, and COVID-19 prevention, rejecting many public health policies.

The subsequent year, he appointed Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo who criticized masks, implying their ineffectiveness against COVID-19 transmission, while promoting hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, drugs that were later found to lack efficacy. COVID-19 vaccine cessation was suggested by Ladapo in January, a proposition rejected by the FDA which commended the safety, effectiveness, and quality of the approved and authorized COVID-19 vaccines. They recognized the ongoing issue of misinformation leading to vaccine hesitancy and its relation to lower vaccine uptake. Lower vaccination rates correspond with higher incidents of COVID-19 caused illness and fatalities, as stated by the FDA. State data shows over 95,000 residents in Florida have lost their lives to COVID-19, with 2020 and 2021 marking the deadliest years. The death toll has so far reached 2,229 in 2024.


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