Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos
Two days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order preventing schools from requiring students to wear masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing the state broke records with 21,683 new cases of the virus in one day. In just two days, the number of new cases spiked from 17,093 to more than 21,000, beating a peak of 19,334 new cases reported on Jan. 7, 2021 in Florida, The Associated Press reported.
"The state has become the new national epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the U.S. as the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread," Associated Press writer Mike Schneider wrote on Saturday.
The new figures tracked on Friday and released on Saturday follow the governor's outright rejection of expert advice throughout the pandemic. "The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day," DeSantis said in a news release on Friday. "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." DeSantis attributed the recent spoke to "a seasonal increase—more Floridians are indoors because of the hot weather with air conditioning circulating the virus," according to The Associated Press.
DeSantis held a roundtable on Monday at the state Capitol to spread more anti-mask rhetoric, with teachers left out of the conversation, according to an account spokeswoman Taryn Fenske gave the Tallahassee Democrat. "With the recent uptick in discussion around mask mandates in schools this upcoming academic year, and indications that the federal government might advise masking children as young as 3 years old, Governor DeSantis wanted to exchange perspectives on this topic with experts like Dr. (Jay) Bhattacharya and other medical professionals, as well as a concerned parent, student, and school administrator," Fenske said. Bhattacharya, a Stanford University professor, has spoken on numerous roundtable panels addressing the pandemic, including one YouTube removed for "misinformation" in March because the doctor said schools should open "with no restrictions," the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
Bhattacharya said during the recent roundtable: "I don't think the Delta variant changes the calculus or the evidence in any fundamental way. Masks do actually cause some harm to children, developmentally." Mark McDonald, a clinical psychiatrist who spoke during the panel discussion via Zoom, said: "Masking children is child abuse. Children are being harmed by mask mandates. There is no scientific evidence that masks work. "The masks are nothing more than a symbol of fear and anxiety."
The dangerous rhetoric flies in the face of actual expert advice. After earlier releasing guidance that vaccinated people could forego masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course on Tuesday, recommending even vaccinated people wear masks indoors. That includes all teachers, staff, students, and school visitors. The agency wrote: "Infections happen in only a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated, even with the Delta variant.
However, preliminary evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people who do become infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus to others." Following the new recommendations, Disney World in Orlando and other theme parks in Florida changed their mask policies, again requiring visitors to wear masks indoors and in "enclosed transportation" regardless of vaccination status.
"There is no higher risk area in the United States than we're seeing here," infectious disease expert Aileen Marty, of Florida International University, told CBS Miami. "The numbers that we're seeing are unbelievable, just unbelievably frightening." Florida Rep. Carlos Smith tweeted: "JUST IN: Florida reports worst day ever for new COVID cases since the beginning of the pandemic with 21,683 cases. Exactly ZERO state mitigation efforts exist + @GovRonDeSantis signed a law banning local COVID restrictions. It didn't have to be this way."
Read DeSantis' executive order below:
WHEREAS, a right to normal education is imperative to the growth and development of our children and adolescents; and
WHEREAS, last summer, at my direction, Florida's Department of Education ordered schools to be open for in-person instruction for five days per week to ensure the continued well-being of students and families; and
WHEREAS, schools – including those that did not require students to be masked – did not drive community transmission of COVID-19; and
WHEREAS, despite recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "guidance," forcing students to wear masks lacks a well-grounded scientific justification; indeed, a Brown University study analyzed COVID-19 data for schools in Florida and found no correlation with mask mandates; and
WHEREAS, masking children may lead to negative health and societal ramifications; and
WHEREAS, studies have shown that children are at a low risk of contracting a serious illness due to COVID-19 and do not play a significant role in the spread of the virus; and
WHEREAS, forcing children to wear masks could inhibit breathing, lead to the collection of dangerous impurities including bacteria, parasites, fungi, and other contaminants, and adversely affect communications in the classroom and student performance; and
WHEREAS, there is no statistically-significant evidence to suggest that counties with mask requirements have fared any better than those without mask requirements during the 2020-2021 school year; and
WHEREAS, on April 29, 2021, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees issued a Public Health Advisory stating that continuing COVID-19 restrictions on individuals, including long-term use of face coverings, pose a risk of adverse and unintended consequences; and
WHEREAS, on June 29, 2021, I signed into law H.B. 241, the Parents' Bill of Rights, which prevents the state, its subdivisions, or any governmental institution, from infringing on the fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care, or mental health of a minor child without demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest and that such action is narrowly tailored and is not otherwise served by less restrictive means; and
WHEREAS, pursuant to Florida law, all parents have the right to make health care decisions for their minor children; and
WHEREAS, many school districts are scheduled to begin classes on August 10, 2021, which is less than two weeks away, and within four weeks virtually all public schools across Florida will be underway; therefore immediate action is needed to protect the fundamental right of parents to make health and educational decisions for their children; and
WHEREAS, Section 1003.22(3), Florida Statutes, mandates the Florida Department of Health to adopt rules, in consultation with the Florida Department of Education, governing the control of preventable communicable diseases, including procedures for exempting children from immunization requirements; and
WHEREAS, Florida's State Board of Education, the chief implementing and coordinating body of public education in Florida, has the authority to adopt rules pursuant to Sections 120.536(1), 120.54, and 1001.02, Florida Statutes, and may delegate its general powers to the Commissioner of Education; and
WHEREAS, pursuant to Section 1008.32(4), Florida Statutes, if the State Board of Education determines that a district school board is unwilling or unable to comply with the law, the State Board shall have the authority to, among other things, withhold the transfer of state funds, discretionary grant funds, discretionary lottery funds, or any other funds specified as eligible for this purpose by the Legislature until the school district complies with the law or state board rule and declare the school district ineligible for competitive grants; and
WHEREAS, given the historical data on COVID-19 and the ongoing debate over whether masks are more harmful than beneficial to children and to school environments in general, we should protect the freedoms and statutory rights of students and parents by resting with the parents the decision whether their children should wear masks in school; and
WHEREAS, we should equally and uniformly protect the freedoms and rights of students and parents across the state.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Ron DeSantis, as Governor of Florida, by virtue of the authority vested in me by Article IV, Section 1(a) of the Florida Constitution, and all other applicable laws, promulgate the following Executive Order, to take immediate effect:
Section 1. I hereby direct the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Education, working together, to immediately execute rules pursuant to section 120.54, Florida Statutes, and take any additional agency action necessary, using all legal means available, to ensure safety protocols for controlling the spread of COVID-19 in schools that:
Section 2. Any action taken pursuant to Section 1 above shall at minimum be in accordance with Florida's "Parents' Bill of Rights" and protect parents' right to make decisions regarding masking of their children in relation to COVID-19.
- Do not violate Floridians' constitutional freedoms;
- Do not violate parents' right under Florida law to make health care decisions for their minor children; and
- Protect children with disabilities or health conditions who would be harmed by certain protocols such as face masking requirements.
Section 3. The Florida Commissioner of Education shall pursue all legal means available to ensure school districts adhere to Florida law, including but not limited to withholding state funds from noncompliant school boards violating any rules or agency action taken pursuant to Section 1 above.
Section 4. This does not prohibit the Florida Legislature from exploring legislation to further protect the fundamental rights of students and parents to be free from excessive, harmful regulation in schools.
Section 5. This Executive Order is effective immediately.