Starting Thursday, businesses and local governments that require proof of the COVID-19 vaccine will face fines from the state of Florida after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law earlier in the year blocking so-called “vaccine passports.”
The Department of Health will begin issuing the $5,000 fines to any business along with local and county governments in violation, which will include the right to a hearing before a judge.
No fines have been handed out in the state so far and all fines will be due within 30 days.
“We are not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate,” DeSantis said at a news conference Monday outside Gainesville. “You don’t just cast aside people who have been serving faithfully over this issue, over what is basically a personal choice on their individual health.”
Florida has been a national epicenter for the virus’s spread this summer, with COVID-19 deaths in Florida accounting for more than 20% of the virus-related deaths across the country last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
At the news conference, DeSantis called on several local government workers from central Florida to explain why they didn’t want to get a vaccine at the risk of losing their jobs. Several offered false conspiracy theories about the vaccines, which medical experts have said are safe and highly effective.
Many of the municipalities requiring employees to get vaccinated offer exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
Broward County will be giving county employees who get COVID-19 vaccines a $500 payment, while those who remain unvaccinated could face a bi-weekly surcharge and weekly testing, Mayor Steve Geller said Wednesday.
Geller said the program is expected to be implemented by the end of September. The county has about 6,800 employees but it’s unknown how many are vaccinated, Geller said.
Any county employee who doesn’t show proof and who is receiving employment benefits like healthcare will have to pay a $20 bi-weekly surcharge, Geller said. They are also going to have to submit to weekly COVID testing.
Geller said the county will reexamine the program at the end of the year and could implement more drastic measures, like mandatory vaccinations.