Florida Republican Who Voted Against Mask Mandate Now In Critical Condition After Contracting COVID-19

Hospital staff work in an ICU.
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A Florida Republican who voted against implementing a county-wide mask mandate is now hospitalized in the “most critical of conditions” after testing positive for the coronavirus, the man’s daughter said.

Paul Waldron, who serves as commissioner for St. Johns County south of Jacksonville, had last week voted against an order that would require all residents to wear masks in public. As Newsweek reported, Waldron said that — while he was not personally opposed to the requirement — he wanted county commissioners to clarify what masks would be required and whether the county could provide supplies for those entering government buildings without a mask.

Still, the decision led to some pushback and the story has gained national interest since Waldron fell ill after contracting the virus. In a Facebook post, Waldron’s daughter shared that he was comfortable in the hospital and that staff members were working hard to keep him stable. However, she said his condition was serious. As First Coast News reported, his daughter wrote that due to “complications from the virus, he went into septic shock and many organs are struggling.”

Waldron’s sudden turn in health — and his decision not to move forward with a mandate that residents wear masks — comes as the number of cases are rising sharply in Florida. Elected officials there have come under fire for going against the recommendation of public health experts by reopening the state economy earlier than many other states — and with looser restrictions. Governor Ron DeSantis had been criticized for refusing to close the state’s beaches, even as some top health officials reportedly pleaded for him to do so.

Much of the controversy centers on St. Johns County, where Waldron serves as county commissioner. As The Washington Post reported, Deanna A. Oleske, the associate medical examiner for the county, pleaded with DeSantis to issue an order for beaches in the county to close.

She also reportedly warned that the county was not properly prepared for the outbreak.

“We are facing NUMEROUS issues that are inhibiting us to appropriately staff this office in an expeditious manner BEFORE facing a pandemic of unknown proportions,” she wrote.

Other elected officials have come under fire for holding off on mandating that residents wear masks, even though public health experts have said that masks have been proven to be one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of the virus. One study found that cases of the coronavirus would plummet if 80 percent of Americans committed to wearing masks while in public.