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DeSantis says he will pardon Floridians charged with violating pandemic rules: ‘They’ve been treated poorly’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) speaks during a news conference in Miami on May 4. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/AP)

Last August, Mike and Jillian Carnevale lined up ellipticals, stationary bikes, weights and tractor tires in the parking lot outside their South Florida gym. They made it clear to members: Despite local pandemic rules, they were open for business — no masks required.

Hours later, police arrested the couple, their second arrest in two days and their third in three weeks, all for violating Broward County’s mask mandate at their gym.

On Thursday, as the couple prepared for their second court hearing this month, the Carnevales learned they could soon be rid of their legal troubles.

In an appearance on Fox News’s “The Ingraham Angle,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) told host Laura Ingraham that the county’s mask mandate was a “total overreach” and that he planned to pardon all residents who faced charges for violating covid health mandates, specifically citing the gym owners.

“When our clemency board meets in the coming weeks, we’ll issue pardons — not only for Mike and Jillian, but for any Floridian that may have outstanding infractions for things like masks and social distancing,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis, a close ally of former president Donald Trump, has boosted his national profile with his staunch opposition to pandemic safety measures, calling the state an “oasis of freedom” even as case numbers spiked over the winter.

Last week, he signed a law suspending all coronavirus restrictions across Florida beginning July 1 and issued executive orders allowing him to supersede any local emergency measures such as mask mandates, school closures and business restrictions. Last September, he also suspended fines and penalties for those violating local ordinances.

Mike and Jillian Carnevale, who own Fitness 1440 in Plantation, Fla., were first arrested on July 27 for violating the county’s mask mandate. They were arrested again on Aug. 6 and ordered to shut down the gym. Hours after their release on Aug. 7, they reopened their gym, this time outdoors. They were arrested for the third time that same day.

Mike, who turned down a plea deal in March, faces 120 days in jail on to two second-degree misdemeanor charges, while Jillian could see 60 days for one second-degree misdemeanor.

During Ingraham’s show on Thursday, which also featured interviews with the couple and their lawyer, DeSantis said he was “recently briefed” on the Carnevales’ case and felt compelled to act.

“Effective tomorrow morning, I’m going to sign a reprieve under my constitutional authority, so that will delay the case for 60 days against both of them,” DeSantis said, adding that during that time he would pardon anyone else charged with violating local pandemic mandates.

DeSantis defended the gym owners’ decision not to enforce mask rules, saying that it’s “not even right” to wear them while exercising.

“The World Health Organization advises against it,” he said. “It’s not healthy for people to be doing that in the first place, so it was a bad restriction.”

In December, the WHO said that people should not wear masks during “vigorous intensity physical activity.” But in February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered the opposite guidance, urging people to wear masks while doing intense workouts, pointing to case studies showing that gyms had repeatedly been superspreaders of the virus.

Dozens got coronavirus from high-intensity workouts in gyms. The CDC warns that masks, better ventilation are a must.

DeSantis added that public health guidelines “should be advisory,” not “punitive.”

“And so we’re happy to use our constitutional authority,” the governor said. “I think they’ve been treated poorly and fortunately they’ve got a governor that cares.”