More than 800 Florida physicians implore Gov. DeSantis to allow local school mask mandates

Florida Politics | By Ryan Nicol | August 12, 2021

DeSantis signed an order blocking mask mandates in schools shortly before students began resuming classes.

More than 800 Florida physicians are demanding Gov. Ron DeSantis permit local school boards to install mask mandates as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to spread.

DeSantis has refused to reverse course after signing an executive order barring local officials from requiring students to wear masks in school. While kids are less susceptible to the virus, the delta variant’s rapid spread has sent cases soaring, causing an increase in children being hospitalized. Just two days in the school year, more than 400 students in Palm Beach County have already been quarantined due to COVID-19 concerns, though so far only a few dozen have tested positive.

“As the virus burns through Florida, health care providers feel we are fighting this fire without any leadership from Gov. Ron DeSantis,” the doctors wrote in their open letter.

“Blocking communities from making local decisions to protect themselves with his top-down, one-size-fits-all edict will only make matters worse. His executive order prohibiting local school districts from implementing COVID-19 safeguards exposes every child to a virus that is deadlier than the flu, as contagious as smallpox and preventable with two basic mitigation measures: mask use and vaccinations. Gov. DeSantis has effectively outlawed the former, and all but ignored the latter. With schools resuming and children returning to classrooms, Gov. DeSantis’ anti-safety strategy puts people at risk, including children.”

The letter campaign was organized by the Committee to Protect Health Care, a group formed to push back against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The organization now pushes for additional expansion of Medicaid and other government health care programs.

The organization has opposed DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past. Now, with many Florida students returning to the classroom this week, the group is spotlighting DeSantis’ decision to block local mask mandates.

“To protect the health of vulnerable Floridians, we are calling on Gov. DeSantis to do three things immediately,” the doctors write.

“One, Gov. DeSantis must repeal his reckless executive order and allow and encourage local school districts to implement safeguards that can minimize COVID-19 spread such as mask-wearing. Two, his administration must resume reporting COVID-19 daily data in full. And three, Gov. DeSantis must do much more to get vaccinations in people’s arms.”

The letter urges DeSantis to make vaccinations more available within schools, but also argues the Governor “rejects simple protections such as masks and vaccinations.”

Critics have called DeSantis out for framing the vaccination decision as a personal choice, arguing the Governor should more forcefully rally people to get the shot. But DeSantis has repeatedly said the vaccines are protecting people.

The Governor has opposed mandating masks, arguing parents should make that decision for their kids. He and his administration have also cited data from a Brown University study showing mask mandates did not conclusively lead to lower transmission rates in schools.

But that same study supported mask usage with or without a mandate.

“We would emphasize that in general this literature suggests in-person school can be operated safely with appropriate mitigation, which typically includes universal masking. It would be premature to draw any alternative conclusions about this question based on this preliminary data,” the researchers wrote.

The Governor has also met with individuals who have questioned the effectiveness of mask usage overall, an argument which does appear to be contradicted by the data DeSantis cites to support his executive order.

Democrats have slammed the Governor’s ban on school mask mandates. Some jurisdictions have also tried to push back against the Governor’s order. Now, the group of 800-plus doctors from across the state is echoing those concerns.

“Asking local schools and jurisdictions to look the other way while COVID-19 tears through our communities, or lose funding if they implement safeguards, won’t protect kids. Waving the flag of personal choice, as Gov. DeSantis does, even as those choices endanger the lives of others, only robs millions of Floridians of the freedom to eat out, be with their loved ones and, yes, learn in schools safely,” the letter reads.

“Enough is enough. Florida needs to mask up, get vaccinated, and have a Governor willing to lead.”

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