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DeSantis: Travel Restrictions Due To Virus Variant Would Be 'Unconstitutional'

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Gov. Ron DeSantis / Facebook
The Florida Channel
Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke out against a report that President Joe Biden’s administration is considering new travel restrictions to areas, including Florida, that have seen a surge in cases involving variants of COVID-19.

Media reports suggest the White House is considering domestic travel restrictions to control spread of a new COVID-19 variant. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he is "100% opposed."

Elected officials and a hospitality industry group in Florida are reacting strongly against reports that the White House is considering imposing domestic travel restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19.

"It would be unconstitutional. It would be unwise and it would be unjust," Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday at a vaccination site in Port Charlotte.

The Republican governor's remarks came after media reports saying federal officials are weighing travel restrictions, including Florida, aimed at slowing the spread of the highly contagious variant first identified in the U.K.

Asked about the reports Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that no decisions have been made about additional public health measures that would affect domestic travel.

Florida leads the nation in the number of known cases of the B.1.1.7 strain of the coronavirus, the variant that emerged in the U.K. Researchers says the variant now accounts for up to 15% of the new cases statewide. Because it is more contagious, public health experts worry the emergence of the variant could accelerate spread of the disease.

DeSantis pointed out that coronavirus-related emergency room visits in Florida have dropped by more than half since December. He said he "100%" opposed any move to restrict domestic travel.

"Restricting the right of Americans to travel freely throughout our country while allowing illegal aliens to pour across the southern border unmolested would be a ridiculous, but very damaging farce," DeSantis said. "It would not be based in science. It would purely be a political attack against the people of Florida."

DeSantis is also emphatic that current COVID-19 vaccines are effective against variants of the disease first found in the United Kingdom.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also a Republican, reacted in much the same way as DeSantis. He said if travel restrictions are imposed, they'll likely be challenged and overturned in court. In a letter he sent to President Biden, Rubio used much of the same language as the governor.

"Instituting a travel ban, or any restriction of movement between the states, would be an outrageous, authoritarian move that has no basis in law or science," Rubio said. "Instead, it would only serve to inflict severe and devastating economic pain on an already damaged economy."

The White House restrictions are being contemplated as Canada, a big source of Florida’s foreign visitors, announced that starting Monday, people arriving by land will have to show negative COVID-19 tests from within the previous 72 hours.

Florida’s tourism industry is still attempting to rebound after pandemic lockdowns caused many businesses to shutter their doors last year. Some businesses are still missing key pieces needed to recover, like international visitors and conventions.

“We echo concerns raised by Governor DeSantis and Senator Rubio about the harmful consequences of potential travel bans,” Carol Dover, president, and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association said in a statement. “Instituting travel restrictions to Florida is not only bad policy but would erase the small steps towards recovery that Florida hotels and restaurants have made.”

Information from WFSU and News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.