While Covid-19 cases are once again surging in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Friday directing the state's health and education departments to issue rules preventing the implementation of school mask mandates.
The order comes in response to "several Florida school boards considering or implementing mask mandates," the governor's office said, and is meant to "protect parents' freedom to choose whether their children wear masks."
The Broward County School Board voted Wednesday to mandate masks after a meeting earlier this week was postponed following protests by a group opposing masks. Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the state's largest school district, announced it was reconsidering its optional mask policy. Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said the district will announce its final decision on masks about two weeks before school starts. The district also announced Thursday face coverings will be required on school buses.
In an event earlier Friday, where DeSantis first announced he would issue the order, he said "many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children."
His order comes as school districts across the state and the country are navigating the safest way to return students to class as a fresh surge of Covid-19 cases is fueled by the dangerous and highly contagious Delta variant.
In Florida, the number of new cases reported over a week jumped by more than 50% in the week ending July 29, according to a weekly situation report published by the state's health department. More than 110,000 new Covid-19 cases were reported in that week, compared to more than 73,000 the week prior. In early June, the state was reporting roughly 11,000 new cases weekly.
But the governor has repeatedly doubled down on the fact that he will not let schools mandate masks for their students. On Monday, DeSantis met privately with a panel of experts who effectively reinforced his positions on mask mandates in school.
"Our view is this should absolutely not be imposed, it should not be mandated," DeSantis said at the roundtable. "And our legislature feels strongly about it that if you started to see a push from the feds or some of the local school districts.
DeSantis kicked off the roundtable saying the event was about the science, but absent in the room, according to the transcript released by his office, were Covid-19 experts from his home state, including his own surgeon general, Dr. Scott Rivkees. Those in attendance included Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford University professor of medicine who co-authored a declaration in 2020 that called for allowing the coronavirus to spread among the population to achieve herd immunity.
DeSantis referred to measures taken to stop the spread of Covid-19 in children as "unspeakable burdens on the most defenseless and least dangerous segment of our society in terms of this, the kids."
A day later, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that localities encourage all students, teachers, staff and visitors to wear masks in schools, regardless of vaccination status.
In a statement following the CDC's guidance, the governor said "masking children can negatively impact their learning, speech, emotional and social development, and physical health," without citing any evidence.
DeSantis added that "COVID is not a serious risk to healthy children" -- a statement which contradicts CDC evidence showing the virus can be a serious risk to children as well.
CDC data indicates more children have died from Covid-19 than are killed by the flu annually, even in a bad influenza year. Covid-19 can also cause a rare but dangerous condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children or MIS-C.
Additionally, there is no scientific evidence that the risk of wearing masks outweighs the benefits. There is no evidence masks affect learning, speech or emotional development or can cause bacterial infections.
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