Florida Rep Battling COVID-19 Begs DeSantis to Issue Mask Mandate

State Rep. Shevrin Jones has tested positive for COVID-19.EXPAND
State Rep. Shevrin Jones has tested positive for COVID-19.
Photo by Florida House of Representatives
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Since testing positive for COVID-19 last week, Florida state Rep. Shevrin Jones has been sharing daily video diaries on Twitter documenting his experience with the virus.

In the first few videos, which are hashtagged #ShevCovidDiary, Jones talks candidly about his symptoms, thanks people for their support, and even admits that he could have been more vigilant in avoiding the infection in the weeks prior. He tells viewers: "I promise you all, you do not want this."

But in his diary posted Monday morning, Jones addressed his message to only one person: Gov. Ron DeSantis. He echoed other residents and Florida Democratic lawmakers in calling on DeSantis to issue a statewide mask order, which the governor has failed to do even as Florida remains a hotspot and shatters records for coronavirus cases.

"Today is not a good day for me. I'm not feeling well," Jones says in the video. "But I'm well enough to ask you to do what's right for the people of Florida."

While several Florida municipalities, including Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties, have mask guidance currently in place, Jones says too many Floridians are still failing to take the pandemic seriously. He tells New Times he believes it's important for him, a person with a platform who is currently suffering from COVID-19, to exemplify the seriousness of it to the governor and to help prevent others from falling victim to infection.

"I look at the news and see the cases rising and the hospitals across the state reaching capacity," Jones says. "Right now, we need real leadership from the top."

When asked if the governor has any plans to create a mask mandate, DeSantis spokesperson Cody McCloud wrote in an email to New Times that "a mask mandate may make sense in Miami-Dade County, but not in Florida's more than 20 rural counties, some with fewer than 50 COVID-positive cases."

"Some counties have experienced significant cases of COVID-19 and others relatively few, which is why input from municipal leaders is important to determine the best course of action for a particular community," McCloud wrote.

In addition to his calls for DeSantis to create a mask order, Jones says he also wants to see improvements in the state's contact tracing system. Shortly after posting the video diary on Monday, Jones shared a tweet noting problems he faced during an attempt at tracking his contacts last week.

Last Thursday, Jones says a representative from the Broward Department of Health called him to conduct contact tracing. While he was already aware of his confirmed diagnosis, he says the caller was "nonchalant" in letting him know he had the virus. Before she finished asking a series of questions, the call abruptly disconnected.

He says they only made it to question three. He hasn't heard from the department since.

"If this is the direction we're moving in with contact tracing, I'm concerned about the people they're not calling and the questions they're not asking," Jones says.

The lawmaker says he'd previously heard about problems with the state's contact tracing system but didn't realize the full extent of the issue until experiencing it himself last week.

In the email to New Times, McCloud wrote that more than 1,700 individuals with the Florida Department of Health are currently doing contact tracing for "every positive case of COVID-19 in Florida." He also notes that the state is working with a private company, Maximus, to hire an additional 400 contact tracers and 200 disease investigators to support contact-tracing efforts. (For several years, Maximus has been accused of underpaying, overworking, and misclassifying its employees, Mother Jones reported earlier this year.)

But according to a recent CNN investigation, Florida's health authorities have often failed to do contact tracing for COVID-19, despite it being considered a "key tool" in containing an outbreak. Of 27 state residents CNN spoke with who had tested positive for the virus, only five said they had received a call from a health official asking for their contacts.

Jones, who previously called on DeSantis to hit pause on the statewide reopening in June, says he's not sure whether to expect the governor to issue a mandatory mask order. He notes that he wants to give DeSantis the benefit of the doubt.

Just a few hours after sharing his video diary on Monday, Jones wrote in a tweet that his parents — Bloneva Jones and Eric Jones Jr., the mayor of West Park — have now also tested positive for COVID-19.

"I will say this: If [DeSantis] is looking at this from a political standpoint and not doing this because of people who are saying wearing a mask is violating their civil liberties, then the governor is just as bad as the people who are making those type of statements," Jones says. 

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