Some Florida school districts are ready to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order that no students be required to mask up to slow COVID-19 transmission.
A national group of health care professionals bolstered that position Wednesday, calling DeSantis’ edict against masks “unconscionable.”
The Committee to Protect Health Care is blasting DeSantis’ orders prohibiting locals from managing the virus. DeSantis’ direction is widely viewed as giving parents the right to ignore any mask mandates that might come from the schools.
“I don’t know what more the Governor could do to make this a worse situation,” said Dr. Mona Mangat, a St. Petersburg allergist and immunologist. “I’m really frustrated because everything the Governor is doing is making it worse. To not let local schools and governments do the right thing to keep people safe is unconscionable.”
Previous “lockdown’ measures last year were designed to avoid exactly the situation that will unfold as schools open, she said. The state is moving into uncharted territory, warned Mangat, who sits on the board of the national organization dedicated to expanding health care access.
“We’ve not had schools open with this kind of transmission happening,” she said.
With new cases and hospitalizations from the virus spiking again as the delta variant of the disease takes hold, DeSantis’ approach to managing the virus has come under increasing attack. His Friday executive order against school mask mandates has drawn particular consternation. Any school district that defies his order by imposing a mask mandate risks losing state funding, according to the order.
Wednesday, DeSantis had no apologies for his approach, which also earned him rebuke from President Joe Biden.
“Let me tell you this, if you’re coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I’m standing in your way,” DeSantis said, to a gathering in Panama City. “I’m not going to let you get away with it.”
Bay County currently has a test positivity rate of 23.1%; the virus is considered under control when positivity rates are lower than 5%. Positivity rates around the state range as high as 41.9% in Lafayette County.
The spike has some school districts wavering on whether to follow the Governor’s order:
— Alachua County Tuesday night voted to require students wear masks for at least the first two weeks of school.
— Broward County schools had been the only one to pass a mask mandate before the Governor’s prohibition. The district announced they would follow the Governor’s edict on Monday. On Wednesday, though, the district said the mask mandate for students would remain in place until further notice, given the conditions.
— Leon County Wednesday decided employees must wear masks when school starts next week, and its Superintendent is pleading with the Governor to allow the school district to require the same of students.
— Miami-Dade schools still have a requirement that students be masked on buses stated on its website. A final decision in light of the Governor’s order has not been made, a school district spokeswoman said Wednesday.
— Duval County schools mandated masks Tuesday, with a clause to let students and parents complete an “opt-out” procedure, which involves paperwork.
Mangat said she heard from a mother who brought her child to a sixth-grade orientation this week. Her child was the only one of about 300 in a room with a mask on. Mangat pointed out those age 12 to 19 have the lowest vaccination rate of any group eligible to receive the shot; just 38% are vaccinated, according to the Florida Health Department.
“We know what the right thing is,” Mangat said. “Do we want to be a failed state (of health care) like what India has been through with their delta variant? This is where we are headed if we don’t do something.”