Florida Bulldog

‘Apolitical’ Statewide Grand Jury endorses DeSantis’s anti-mask, anti-lockdown policy choices

statewide grand jury
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees with Gov. Ron DeSantis in March 2020. Photo: The Florida Channel

By Noreen Marcus,

A statewide grand jury is writing a chapter of Florida history that says Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration was “following the science” by rejecting masking and lockdowns at the peak of the COVID-19 public health crisis.

Look for at least one vaccine maker to be portrayed as a villain in the final product. The grand jury empaneled in Tampa has until Dec. 26 to fulfill its stated mission by delivering an indictment – unlikely –or a commentary.

In February the grand jury released an interim report that begins by forcefully asserting its own impartiality. “First and foremost, as an institution, the Statewide Grand Jury is apolitical. The members of this Grand Jury are not public officials and we have no specific agenda with respect to these issues,” the report says. 

But the report goes on to assault the actions of federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Guided by lawyers from Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas Cox’s office, the 18-member jury found the agencies’ pandemic guidelines were ill-advised and based on faulty risk assessments.

statewide grand jury
Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas Cox.

The report also defends fringe views of the coronavirus, rebranding them as scientific truths: “It is a sad state of affairs when following the science constitutes an act of heresy, but here we are.”

Former Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees, who led Florida’s virus eradication efforts until September 2021, put the report in a national context in an interview with Florida Bulldog.

“Florida is the only state to have a grand jury of this nature,” he said.

The interim report doesn’t suggest the grand jury will devote its remaining time and resources to compiling practical scientific advice on how to minimize lives ruined or lost in the next epidemic, or towards examining abuses in the awarding of COVID related contracts.

A great deal was lost in the COVID-19 pandemic. Florida had 93,000 deaths; U.S. deaths topped 1.1 million. According to the CDC, in 2022, 6.9 percent of U.S. adults who survived coronavirus attacks reported long-COVID symptoms – fatigue and respiratory and neurologic problems.


Rivkees, today a professor in the School of Public Health at Brown University in Providence, RI., praised the approach taken by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana. Mainstream scientists there helped a biodefense commission plan for a future virus outbreak. “The commission supports public health and has honest, bipartisan input,” he said.

But in Florida, “public health has now become part of a political wedge issue,” Rivkees said. He likened it to critical race theory, book censorship and LGBTQ rights.

Rivkees has criticized the DeSantis administration for questioning the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. He said the experts who shape Florida public health policy “really are on the medical fringe, something which is very different than what they did in Indiana.”

He referred to the Public Health Integrity Committee that DeSantis launched simultaneously with the statewide grand jury in December 2022, five months before the governor announced his presidential bid. The chair is Rivkees’s controversial successor, Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, a staunch opponent of vaccines and other virus mitigation measures.

death rates
Gov. DeSantis with state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo

In a published study, Rivkees shows how politics, as opposed to science, seemed to motivate DeSantis throughout the pandemic.

For example, he wrote that DeSantis announced the purchase of 1 million doses of hydroxychloroquine soon after then-President Donald Trump promoted the drug on March 21, 2020.

On April 8, 2020, the governor held a press conference to display a COVID-19 patient who’d been treated with hydroxychloroquine. DeSantis and Trump were allies at the time.

“Recent data show that the use of hydroxychloroquine during COVID-19 has been linked to about 17,000 deaths,” Rivkees wrote.


The interim grand jury report doesn’t identify potential targets of criminal indictments due to secrecy rules. The rules don’t apply to authorities that reinforce the report’s conclusions, however.

Two of them look sketchy.

The report quotes Dr. Donald Henderson, “one of the world’s most famous epidemiologists,” for his successful work to eradicate smallpox. He opposed quarantines.

“As experience shows, there is no basis for recommending quarantine either of groups or individuals,” Henderson wrote in 2006, the report says. “The problems in implementing such measures are formidable, and secondary effects of absenteeism and community disruption as well as possible adverse consequences, such as loss of public trust in government and stigmatization of quarantined people and groups, are likely to be considerable.”

The late Dr. Donald Henderson

So what did Henderson, once chief of the CDC’s virus disease surveillance program, have to say about mass lockdowns during a once-a-century pandemic? We’ll never know because he died in 2016, a relevant fact the report doesn’t disclose.

To resolve whether masks help keep the coronavirus from spreading, the grand jury turned to The Cochrane Library, a U.K. nonprofit that collects and synthesizes scientific research data. The report describes Cochrane as the “gold standard” in its field.

“There is uncertainty about the effects of face masks,” Cochrane researchers wrote in January 2023, the report says. “The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect.”

Two months after Cochrane’s mask report surfaced, the Toronto Star published a story with this headline: “How the Cochrane Review went wrong. Report questioning COVID masks blows up, prompts apology.”

Apparently, Cochrane’s analysis was based on shaky data. Still, “the authors concluded that masking in the community made ‘little to no difference.’’’ This last phrase went viral, the newspaper reported.

It must have reached Florida’s COVID-19 grand jury, which somehow missed the subsequent apology.


When DeSantis asked the Florida Supreme Court to convene a statewide grand jury on COVID-19, the assignment had little to do with masking or lockdowns.

The jury was supposed to investigate “crimes and wrongdoing committed against Floridians related to the COVID-19 vaccine,” according to a Dec. 13, 2022 statement from DeSantis’s office.

“The Biden Administration and pharmaceutical corporations continue to push widespread distribution of mRNA [COVID] vaccines on the public … through relentless propaganda while ignoring real-life adverse events,” the statement continues. “These risks include coagulation disorders, acute cardiac injuries, Bell’s palsy, encephalitis, appendicitis, and shingles.”

Fact check from Dr. Rivkees: “These are events that have been described, but cause and effect have not been proven. When you have more than 700 million doses of vaccine that have been administered in the U.S., vaccines are going to intersect with a wide variety of medical conditions.  An abundance of information shows that the mRNA vaccines have an excellent safety profile and serious adverse events are exceedingly rare.”

Judging by the grand jury’s interim report, in eight months the jurors didn’t even begin to tackle their main task of ferreting out criminality in the COVID-19 vaccine industry. As of now they have seven months to complete their assignment and produce indictments – or not.

Perhaps the grand jury does not need to take any punitive action to accomplish its real goal.

In October 2022, Surgeon General Ladapo came out against vaccination for men aged 18 to 39. He relied on an anonymous study that showed a relatively high incidence of cardiac-related deaths among men who had COVID-19 shots.

Medical professionals pushed back hard. Dr. David Gorski, a Detroit surgical oncologist and critic of the anti-vax movement, said Ladapo’s stance represents the first time in American history “a state government weaponized bad science to spread anti-vaccine disinformation as official policy.”

Now the grand jury may be incorporating that disinformation into an official account of Florida’s COVID-19 history.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Support Florida Bulldog

If you believe in the value of watchdog journalism please make your tax-deductible contribution today.

We are a 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are tax deductible.

Join Our Email List


First Name

Last Name

Florida Bulldog delivers fact-based watchdog reporting as a public service that’s essential to a free and democratic society. We are nonprofit, independent, nonpartisan, experienced. No fake news here.


5 responses to “‘Apolitical’ Statewide Grand Jury endorses DeSantis’s anti-mask, anti-lockdown policy choices”

  1. For so despising “indoctrination” and “agendas” as he claims to, DeSantis sure is bent on using every organ of government he can to try and bleach out of the history books his horrific incompetence and malfeasance on so many truth-dependent and critical issues. He’s a known disgrace, of course, but it is beneath repellant that so many Floridians who regard themselves as “Leading lights of enlightened government” are willing to and clamor to play his filthy games with him against the well-being of our state.

  2. Steven Booth Songstad Avatar
    Steven Booth Songstad

    Florida was so successful in combating Covid-19 that it had almost 10% of all of the Covid-19 deaths in the US and its territories. Morons, deadly ignorant cruel morons!🤦

  3. I have nothing but disdain for those who criticize Gov. DeSantis for his stance, and who belittle the grand jury made up of non-political people who use real science instead of political party politics in their findings. Instead of applauding those who did things differently, but successfully, on the Covid epidemic, they once again choose political science, rather than medical science to push their agenda. This is shameful, and I fear that when we have another health epidemic arise, the same failed unproven tactics may be pushed once again, with the same deadly results.

  4. We understand that the far right use disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, and fact and evidence-free conspiracy “theories” to alter reality, but it doesn’t take much effort to Google how Florida’s death rate from Covid was more than twice as California’s, and that the state of Florida, thru DeathSantis, tried to hide the deaths of thousands to skew its numbers.

  5. As someone who was part of the process of overseeing the COVID-19 website at the Florida Department of Health during the pandemic, I can attest to the challenges of providing accurate and timely information in a rapidly evolving situation.

    While we aimed to present the most reliable data available, the fluid nature of the pandemic and the discrepancies in daily numbers made it difficult to ensure consistency. It wasn’t always clear whether these discrepancies were unintentional or influenced by external factors, as the Executive Office of the Governor had final approval over the daily numbers before they were posted. Additionally, it wasn’t just the data that changed daily; the guidance did as well, and these updates were not always consistent.

    It’s important to recognize the complexities and uncertainties inherent in managing a public health crisis. In light of the recent grand jury’s report, it’s essential to continue emphasizing the value of evidence-based practices and a commitment to science in guiding our responses to such challenges.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *