To mask or not to mask? That is the question a group of experts, school board members and parents addressed in a roundtable Wednesday, with the panelists advocating for school mask mandates.
Gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist hosted the roundtable, hearing from those who support a mask mandate — a hot topic among Floridians as kids head back to the classroom in the coming weeks. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order Friday barring school districts from requiring masks.
Dr. Lisa Gwynn, a pediatrician and associate professor of clinical pediatrics and public health sciences at the University of Miami, has worked as a practicing physician for more than two decades. She advocated for masking students, especially those unable to get vaccinated.
“The only way to kind of arm them with a sense of safety is to make sure that they wear a mask and get vaccinated,” Gwynn said. “Those are the only two ways. If a child can get vaccinated, they should be. They will have a sense of freedom and safety.”
Gwynn, who is also president of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also spoke of concerns parents may have about vaccinating their child, highlighting efforts by health care workers to educate community members and address fears.
“We are seeing firsthand out in the field the importance of vaccinations, and also helping to alleviate the hesitancy among parents, because they do have a lot of questions and it’s rightfully so, I mean I’m a parent as well, I understand their fears,” Gwynn said. “The message that we’re trying to promote to parents is to instruct their children that this is the safe (way). This is the best way to keep them safe.”
Gwynn also warned of the strength of the virus’ new delta variant, which is spreading across Florida rapidly. The state has led the nation in the numbers of new COVID-19 cases, confirming 110,000 last week, and more than 21,000 cases on Friday alone.
“Unfortunately, we’re starting to now see, the data is coming in, that the virus is trying to outsmart us,” Gwynn said. “We’re in a race, because it’s becoming more and more deadly, and more and more contagious, and the only way out of this — there’s no other way the data is clear — that we have to protect ourselves by face coverings, other mitigation strategies like hand washing and distancing, and most important vaccinations.”
Broward County School Board member Sarah Leonardi also spoke at the roundtable. The Broward County School Board actually passed a mask mandate last week, which was later barred by the Governor’s order. The school district is awaiting further guidance before making a decision on its mandate, with the current face-covering policy remaining in place. The School Board will discuss the next steps during a special meeting next Tuesday.
However, Leonardi said in the discussion that as a member of the board, she has not ruled out legal action as a method to fight for the mask mandate.
“Last year we had very, very minimal spread in our schools and it was because of very simple safety measures like masking, washing hands, social distancing,” she said. “And as we are welcoming all students back into the classroom, physically, masking is going to be the safest way to keep them healthy and alive.”
Crist’s roundtable comes as his latest jab at incumbent opponent DeSantis, with the two polarized on the debate of requiring masks in schools.
A recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls commissioned by Florida Politics found that about 62% of Floridians support requiring masks in schools. The same poll also showed Crist leading DeSantis 45%-44% in the Governor’s race amid the state’s COVID-19 outbreak.