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DeSantis Not Budging On Mask Mandate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says only about 2.6% of nearly 24,000 COVID-19 tests confirmed an infection on Monday, in a new low.
Chris O'Meara
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020.

With nearly 12,000 Floridians hospitalized due to COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated Tuesday that nothing in the state will shut down to slow the spread of the virus.

This as the lines are also being drawn on the use of face coverings, especially in the classroom.

Numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that on Tuesday, more than 21% of all inpatient hospital beds being used in Florida are for COVID-19 patients, most with the Delta variant. Of those, 2,400 are ICU beds.

As daily case numbers spike, DeSantis issued an executive order Friday aimed at blocking school boards from requiring students to wear masks when the academic year begins later this month. The governor is also threatening to revoke state funding to schools that don’t comply with his order.

“These interventions have failed, time and time again, throughout this pandemic,” the governor claimed. “Not just in the United States, but abroad. They have not stopped the spread. Particularly with Delta, which is even more transmissible, if it didn’t stop it before, it definitely ain’t gonna stop it now.”

DeSantis, whose re-election campaign is selling koozies quoting him saying, “How the hell am I going to drink a beer with a mask on?” held a closed-door meeting last week with doctors aligned with his position. He’s just as adamant against mandatory masking in Florida’s public schools, saying that’s up to mom and dad.

“Our fear is, is that seeing some of those rumblings that there being an attempt by the federal level — or even some of these organizations — to try to push for mandatory masking of school children,” DeSantis said. “And so our view is, that this should absolutely not be imposed, it should not be mandated.”

According to the Florida Hospital Association, 50% of the people in the hospital are between ages 25 and 55, while 96% of those hospitalized are unvaccinated. The governor recently has encouraged people to get vaccinated, though he has also blocked businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that those who are fully vaccinated in parts of the country with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission rates should wear masks indoors, in light of the highly contagious Delta variant.

“So where we were in May was that we had a country that had mostly [the] Alpha variant of this virus; only one percent of the sequenced virus was Delta at the time,” said CDC administrator Dr. Rochelle Walensky, appearing on CBS. Here we are about 10 weeks later, and most of what we’re sequencing now is Delta variant -– and Delta is just a different kind of beast. It is much more contagious, we knew that already.”

The new data leading to the change with face coverings, she says, has been corroborated several times over the past few days.

“Eighty percent of our counties with the highest amount of disease have the lowest amount of vaccination in this country –- less than 40% of the people vaccinated,” Walensky said. “So there is no doubt that the reason that we have so much disease right now, is because it’s gone after those who are unprotected. And the vast majority of transmission that is happening in this country is happening among unvaccinated people.”

“If you listen to Governor DeSantis, you will find that our position certainly aligns with his; he is not in favor of quarantining healthy students, nor is the Santa Rosa County School Board, myself, or our school district,” says Superintendent Dr. Karen Barber.

She says they’ve created a pathway for students without symptoms to stay in school -- vaccinated or not -- with certain safeguards in place, such as the optional use of masks.

“On May 3, we changed our practice from 'mandatory' to 'highly recommend,’ and we’ll continue with highly recommended,” Barber said. “Parents and students — that’s a personal decision they can make, regarding face coverings.”

The policy can be found at the Santa Rosa School District’s website. The remaining issue to be decided, says Barber, deals with students being exposed at home.

“When the data shows that if you have a COVID-positive person in your house, your chances of getting the virus significantly increase,” said Barber. “If an employee or student has someone in their household that they live with that has the virus, then we would ask them to follow the recommendations of the health department and quarantine.”

Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith said last week they are working on their COVID policy for the upcoming school year. We will bring you that when it becomes available.

“We want kids back in school; we want school to be full-time in person, we want children to be able to enjoy the school year,” said the CDC’s Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

“We’ve seen outbreaks at summer schools that have not been complying with the guidance, and we know that when you have a lot of disease around, it comes in from the community and then it can spread in schools if you don’t do what is necessary,” she added.

In a written statement, the Florida Education Association says that DeSantis “has made clear he does not respect the freedom of locally elected officials to do what they feel is best for their communities.”