Record-setting COVID surge in Florida spurs pro-mask uprising against DeSantis

A man in a suit gestures while speaking into a microphone.
Enlarge / Florida man and Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference held at the Assault Brigade 2506 Honorary Museum on August 05, 2021, in Hialeah, Florida.

The dire COVID-19 situation in Florida continues to worsen as local and federal leaders push back against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his efforts to thwart public health measures.

DeSantis has banned businesses, local governments, and schools in Florida from requiring proof of vaccination. Last Friday, DeSantis issued an executive order barring schools from requiring children to wear masks. In signing the executive order, the governor’s office called federal recommendations for masks “unscientific” and claimed the order would “protect parents’ freedom.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has also recommended universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Meanwhile, the delta coronavirus surge continues. On Wednesday, Florida recorded 20,133 new cases, its second-highest daily total of new cases in the entirety of the pandemic. The Sunshine State accounted for 22 percent of new cases detected in the US yesterday, despite making up just 6.5 percent of the country’s population. Today, a record-high of 12,888 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state. It is the fourth straight day of record-breaking hospitalizations.

Florida is also reporting the highest numbers of new cases in children than any other state, with a total of 135 children under 18 currently in the hospital. An analysis by the Miami Herald determined that, while cases are spiking in every age group in the state, the steepest increase is seen in those ages 12 and under, who are not eligible for vaccination.

Get out of the way

At least four school districts in the state—including some of the largest districts—have announced that they will keep or reissue mask requirements, despite DeSantis’ orders, according to The Washington Post. The revolt in Duval, Broward, and Leon counties puts in jeopardy state-level funding to the districts.

However, on Thursday, state education leaders hinted at a softening stance against mask requirements. Rather than trying to overturn district mask mandates, the state board of education proposed offering vouchers for students to dodge mask mandates by letting them transfer to other public or private schools that don’t require them, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

A lawyer for the state’s largest teacher’s union noted to the Herald-Tribune that DeSantis may no longer have the power to overrule school districts’ decisions about masks and other policies because he let lapse an emergency order that gave him broader control during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden blasted DeSantis and other governors standing in the way of health measures as cases surge. “If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way of people trying to do the right thing,” he said.

On Wednesday, DeSantis hit back by deflecting blame for the current surge on immigration, without providing any evidence for such a claim. He also argued that mask mandates shouldn’t be in the hands of government officials. “He thinks that should be a decision for the government,” DeSantis said of Biden, “well I can tell ya in Florida, the parents are gonna be the ones in charge of that decision.”

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