Amid a surge in Florida’s COVID-19 cases, a Facebook meme dated June 24 falsely claims the state’s surgeon general recommended that people stop wearing face masks. The surgeon general actually issued an advisory two days earlier saying everyone in Florida “should wear face coverings in any setting where social distancing is not possible.”
Florida is among several states where COVID-19 cases surged in late June. The state surpassed its previous daily record for new coronavirus cases, reporting 9,585 infections on June 27. Florida has recorded a total of 146,341 cases, including 3,447 deaths, as of June 29.
In response, some Florida officials have slowed — or reversed — the lifting of restrictions implemented to mitigate transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the illness. On June 26, state officials prohibited the sale of alcohol in bars. Miami-Dade and Broward counties have decided to close their beaches for the Fourth of July weekend.
With a broader stroke, Florida’s surgeon general, Dr. Scott Rivkees, issued a public health advisory on June 22 urging Floridians to “wear face coverings in any setting where social distancing is not possible.”
But two days later, a meme on Facebook falsely claimed the opposite, saying: “The Florida Surgeon General has issued a Public Health Advisory. Everyone should STOP wearing masks as they have now been found to be harmful to your health.”
The inaccurate meme labels itself as an “EMERGENCY ALERT.”
Since the pandemic first spread to Florida, the state government has been cautious in implementing restrictions on residents and businesses. Florida announced its first cases of COVID-19 in early March. By the end of March, Florida had the sixth most coronavirus cases in the U.S.
But while 30 state governors issued statewide lockdowns that month, Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis had only issued a “safer-at-home” order in four counties in southern Florida by the end of March.
In early May, Florida entered the first phase of DeSantis’ reopening plan, with hospitals being allowed to accommodate non-essential procedures and restaurants and stores allowed to reopen with limited indoor capacities under social distancing guidelines. In early June, DeSantis began the second phase of the plan, allowing movie theaters, bars and event spaces to open, again with limited indoor capacities. He has said that the state is not ready for the third phase of the reopening plan.
Throughout June, while Florida has experienced a rise in COVID-19 cases, DeSantis has attributed the surge to increased testing. But, as we have written, the rise in cases is not all attributable to more tests.
In Florida, the seven-day average for the test positivity rate, as analyzed by Johns Hopkins University, is now 15.5% — three times the recommended target of 5%, which the state had been hitting for nearly all of May.
While Florida’s surgeon general recommends face mask usage, neither he nor DeSantis have said that it should be mandated by the state.
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