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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaks during during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando last month. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Thousands of residents over 65 in a wealthy gated enclave in the Florida Keys had received COVID vaccines by mid-January, while most of the rest of Florida's elderly waited for their shots, report the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.

Why it matters: The uber-rich Ocean Reef Club on Key Largo, with more than 2,100 full- or part-time members, was dubbed by the papers as "one of the highest-security private communities in the nation."

  • Ocean Reef did not respond to the Times' and Herald's request for comment on how it obtained so many vaccines so quickly.

The state of play: The only people from the area who gave to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) political committee all live in Ocean Reef. All 17 had given contributions of $5,000 through December 2020.

  • Resident Bruce Rauner, who served as the Republican governor of Illinois and headed a Chicago private equity firm, donated $250,000 in February.

What they're saying: DeSantis spokesperson Meredith Beatrice told the papers that the governor was not involved in selecting Ocean Reef for early vaccines.

  • "This was not a state-supported senior community POD [point of distribution], nor was it requested by the governor."

The big picture: DeSantis has been criticized for steering exclusive pop-up vaccination sites to other wealthy communities in Florida — and has continually denied that politics drove the decisions.

  • Two of the wealthiest zip codes in Manatee County — both predominantly white and heavily Republican — got a pop-up site with DeSantis' assistance. The governor responded by dismissing any charges of favoritism.
  • Three other developments in the state run by Pat Neal, a politically-connected developer and former state senator who has a long history in GOP politics, also got similar vaccine sites. At the time, a DeSantis spokesman said the "insinuation" that they were "established for political purposes is completely baseless."

Florida readers: Check out the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Go deeper

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

Vaccine site opens at Tampa Greyhound Track

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A FEMA-coordinated mass COVID-19 community vaccination site opens Wednesday morning at the Tampa Greyhound Track in Sulphur Springs and will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

The state of play: The site will accept walk-ups only and will first vaccinate law enforcement officers, firefighters and school employees ages 50 and older, plus residents 65 and older and those with medical conditions that make them "extremely vulnerable."

Some companies will keep mask mandates in states that lifted COVID-19 restrictions

Photo: Emaz/VIEWpress via Getty Images

Some of the biggest chains in the U.S., including Target and Starbucks, will continue to require masks and limit capacity in Texas and Mississippi after the states lift coronavirus restrictions, Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The Republican governors' move to reopen "100%" has divided the business community, with some welcoming the decision while others worry about risk of backslide on progress and put workers at risk.