He’s a lawyer in a northern Florida beach town but the world, staring down a global pandemic over the novel coronavirus, knows him as the Florida grim reaper.
Daniel Uhlfelder has sued the governor of Florida. He’s travelled the state dressed in a costume literally representing death — in a bid to caution people against loosening their vigilance over COVID-19.
Sunday’s numbers, which saw Florida hit yet another record for the most number of cases in 24 hours, are “very upsetting,” he told Global News in an interview.
“I mean, 15,000 cases in one day is really bad,” Uhlfelder said.
An analysis by news agency Reuters showed that if Florida was a country, it would be fourth in the world for the most number of new cases in a single day, behind the U.S., Brazil and India.
As COVID-19 reared its head in the U.S. in April and May, Uhlfelder took to dressing as the grim reaper and visiting beaches in his state to remind beachgoers that the coronavirus threat is real.
Uhlfelder was at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mansion on Friday, along with several physicians, advocating for a statewide mask mandate.
Other states, such as Texas and California, have “recognized that facial coverings reduce the spread of the virus,” he said.
“In Florida, the problem is, he’s leaving that up to the cities and the counties to do those things,” Uhlfelder said.
“That’s not the right way to do it because this virus does not respect county-city boundaries.”
Two board members of a group called Physicians for Social Responsibility Florida echoed Uhlfelder’s calls for statewide face masks.
“We’ve got to use every tool at our disposal,” said Donald Axelrad, a professor at a university in Florida.
“It’s not clear to me why we would forego one of our most effective tools, that is, wearing a face mask. It’s broadly understood by the scientific community that these are effective. So I respect the governor, but I do not understand his thinking here. And I would ask him to reconsider.”
Dr. Ron Saff, an allergy doctor from Tallahassee, called mandating masks a “no brainer.”
“We’re hoping that he will change his mind,” he said.
The Florida group has an online petition calling for Gov. DeSantis to mandate facial coverings in public, which Saff and Axelrad say has garnered around 1,000 signatures so far, mostly from health care professionals.
Florida’s health department advises people to wear a mask or face covering when around other people or out in public.
By July 2, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas mandated face masks in most of the state. California, the first state in March to impose a stay-at-home order, mandated face masks in public or high-risk settings under a mid-June order by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Hillsborough County has ordered face masks be worn inside business open to the public, while the city of Tampa requires face masks in any indoor space open to the public, when not social distancing from others.
Global News has reached out to Gov. DeSantis’ office but did not hear back before publication.
In the recent past, the governor has said he’s leaving it up to local areas.
“We’re not going to do that statewide. We wanted to have a collaborating effort with the locals from the beginning,” he said in a June 29 story by Local 10 News.
Read more: Should masks be mandatory? It depends
Face mask measures have sparked backlash in some parts of the U.S., with activists in a number of states — including Florida and Michigan — organizing protests against local mandates, saying they infringe individual freedoms.
The U.S. has recorded more than 3.3 million cases of COVID-19, the highest of any country in the world so far. Globally, the virus has resulted in more than 12.8 million cases, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. also leads in terms of deaths related to COVID-19, with more than 135,000 deaths out of a global death toll of nearly 570,000.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a cloth face-covering in public settings, especially when social distancing is a challenge.
In Canada, health officials recommend wearing a non-medical face covering when it’s not possible to distance from other people, especially in public spaces such as stores or transit.
— With files by Reuters, The Associated Press