TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Fear and frustration in Florida after the Biden Administration considers travel restrictions to contain the spread of more infectious COVID-19 variants.
First reports of a possible domestic travel ban, including but not targeting Florida, came Wednesday evening concerning many in the Sunshine State who rely on tourism.
The White House tried to calm fears hours later, issuing a statement Thursday morning saying nothing was final and that officials were continuing to discuss recommendations.
"To be clear, there have been no decisions made around additional public health measures for domestic travel safety," said a spokesperson for the White House. "The administration is continuing to discuss recommendations across the travel space, but no specific decisions are under consideration."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who himself placed travel restrictions on New Yorkers and others last year, railed against the idea. The Republican and ally of the former president called the limitations unconstitutional, unwise and unjust during a press event.
Virus metrics were down, DeSantis said, and the state should remain open.
"Any attempt to restrict or lockdown Florida by the federal government would be an attack on our state done purely for political purposes," DeSantis said.
A travel ban would likely have an impact on the governor's proposed $96.6 billion budget. Restrictions could weaken revenue leading to major cuts, which DeSantis avoided in the version he sent to lawmakers late last month.
Florida's hospitality industry is also concerned restrictions would stymie its economic rebound. The Restaurant and Lodging Association said its 10,000 members are still struggling as business and conference traffic remains stagnant.
White House on reports the admin is considering a domestic travel ban to curb COVID variants: “To be clear, there have been no decisions made around additional public health measures for domestic travel safety." Full statement below. pic.twitter.com/BQhlkQBbaJ— Forrest Saunders (@FBSaunders) February 11, 2021
"Our state relies on visitors to keep people employed, fund state and local government, and remain state income tax-free," said Carol Dover, President, and CEO of FRLA. "To restrict individuals and their families from coming to Florida would absolutely kill the economic progress we have made in recent months."
Epidemiologist Jason Salemi, who works with the University of South Florida, felt almost everything should be on the table as Florida sees COVID cases of the more infectious UK variant, B.1.1.7, climb.
"It just might be a matter of time before we see a variant that is more severe," Salemi said.
B.1.1.7 continues to be most prevalent in Florida, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Curbing its spread, Salemi said, would ensure less chance of a future mutation that is more resilient to vaccines.
"All of these things would just be bad news until we are able to achieve a herd-level of immunity and get the spread of the virus down to levels where it doesn't have as much of an opportunity to replicate and mutate," Salemi said.