More recess time, ice cream at the end of the day, or maybe fighting Gov. Ron DeSantis in court: those are all ways Democratic congressional delegates are getting creative to keep kids masked at school as the delta variant of COVID-19 continues its deadly surge through Florida.
Reps. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Darren Soto of Kissimmee held a press conference Thursday reiterating their horror at how the Governor’s policies have made Florida the nation’s hotspot for new cases of COVID-19, record hospitalizations and needless deaths.
“Florida is one of the most dangerous and least prepared places to be in America right now and really, no one is more to blame for that reality then Gov. Ron DeSantis,” Wasserman Schultz said, pointing to record-breaking numbers of cases and hospitalizations. “Those are the brutal facts, not media hysteria.”
They called DeSantis a “zealot” and a “bully” who is putting people at risk of “Death by DeSantis” as he competes to become President with other right-wing governors by refusing to enact measures to control the spread of the virus.
“He is flouting science. He is giving the middle finger to science, and it’s unacceptable. He’s endangering people’s lives … If he doesn’t want to impose a statewide mask mandate, which he should, he should get out of the damn way,” Wasserman Schultz said, noting he should at least let local governments implement their own efforts to control the virus’ spread.
The Governor has said he is following science, which he contends shows this spike is a seasonal fluctuation that will level off. There are no plans to declare another COVID-19 emergency, as the delegation recommended Thursday, said Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ spokeswoman.
The delegation also applauded school boards in Alachua, Broward and Duval counties for standing up to DeSantis’ order prohibiting mandates for students to wear masks.
On Friday, DeSantis threatened to pull state funding for any school district that requires students to wear them. But not everyone is following DeSantis’ direction.
The Alachua School Board is mandating masks for at least the first two weeks of school. Duval County School Board made masks mandatory, unless parents fill out paperwork. And the Broward School Board announced Wednesday the student mask requirement will stand for now, in spite an earlier announcement they would abide by DeSantis’ executive order.
Pushaw pushed back against the idea that mask mandates reduce transmission of the virus.
“Counties in Florida that imposed mask mandates last year did not demonstrate significantly better COVID-19 outcomes, in terms of hospitalizations and deaths, than counties that had no mask mandates,” she said, also citing experiences in California and Texas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations are on your side, Frankel said to the districts who see a need to require students to mask up.
“I just urge everyone in the public and businesses and local governments to put on their creative hats and figure out every way to legally get around what he’s trying to do because we need to save lives in this state,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz applauded the Broward School Board and urged it to stick to the impulse that led them to approve a mask mandate for students before DeSantis’ order prohibiting such a mandate.
“I would say to the School Board in Broward County, you have the law on your side, you have court cases behind you, and you have the overwhelming responsibility of putting the health of our students, faculty and staff first,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Pushaw said the Governor is standing up for parents’ rights.
“If any government body wants to infringe on the rights of parents to choose what is best for their own children, he will stand in the way and stand up for Florida families,” she said.