‘Let them compete:’ Gov. DeSantis praises drop of COVID vax mandate for athletes in Special Olympics

Reports say Florida sent letter regarding $27.5 million in fines against mandate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis praised the drop of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for athletes competing in the Special Olympics in Orlando during a news conference Friday.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis praised the drop of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for athletes competing in the Special Olympics in Orlando during a news conference Friday.

The governor was joined by Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo and Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Dr. Eric Hall for the news conference at Rio Pinar Golf & Country Club in Orlando.

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The Special Olympics, being held June 5-12 in Orlando, said Thursday it was dropping the vaccine requirement “as demanded by the state of Florida officials on May 27, based upon the Florida Department of Health’s interpretation of Florida law.”

“For 54 years, Special Olympics has been brave in the attempt. We don’t want to fight. We want to play,” the organization wrote in the update.

First reported by Jay O’Brien with ABC News, the Florida Department of Health sent a letter to the Special Olympics Thursday regarding $27.5 million in fines against the organization for the vaccine mandate. The department notified the Special Olympics of the fine that said the organization would be fined for 5,500 violations of state law for requiring proof of coronavirus vaccination for attendees or participants.

“I can tell you the heart and the determination you see from our Special Olympians is remarkable. And they’re able to do things that, quite frankly, I don’t think that I would be able to do under those circumstances and so, they really should be admired and commended. And so, this is something that I think is really meaningful for people throughout the state of Florida,” DeSantis said during Friday’s news conference.

The governor said this move gives athletes “peace of mind to know that they’re going to be able to compete.”

“This is a really significant event for these athletes and you know, in Florida, we want all of them to be able to compete. We do not think it’s fair, or just, to be marginalizing some of these athletes based on a decision that has no bearing on their ability to compete with honor and integrity,” DeSantis said. “And so this was important that we engaged in this. I wish it did not have to come to this.”

The mother of an athlete competing in the Special Olympics said during the news conference “it’s been a roller coaster ride” and she was thankful.

Hall called the mandate “contradictory” and said he was proud the athletes would be able to participate.

“When you talk about a policy and you talk about an organization, who on their website promotes inclusion, to then have an exclusionary policy. It’s contradictory, it’s hypocritical, and it doesn’t have the best interest of our athletes at the forefront,” he said.

This comes after the governor signed off on Florida’s $109.9 billion state budget during a news conference Thursday in The Villages. The budget, passed by Florida lawmakers in March, will include raises for state workers and a 30-day gas tax suspension in October. While the budget is historic in size, DeSantis has the ability to veto items out of the budget. He vetoed some $3.1 billion in items from the budget.

Friday’s news conference also comes one day after Ladapo wrote members of the Florida Board of Medicine about gender dysphoria treatments for children and adolescents. In the letter, Ladapo stated he is against performing these treatments for children, citing research by the Department of Health.

About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.