Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is doing everything within his power to prevent school children from wearing masks in the fall. Even though one in every five new Covid-19 cases is in Florida, DeSantis continues to push his pro-Covid agenda as the state’s Department of Health issued an emergency rule allowing children the option to “opt out” of school masking mandates on Friday.
Florida is experiencing the worst of the pandemic as the Delta variant spreads, and the state has reported more cases this past week than any other. Florida also broke another record this week as 12,000 more people were hospitalized with the virus. Compared to the original Covid-19 strain, the Delta variant is more harmful to children, and Florida has reported more young people admitted to the hospital in the last week with the virus — 4,615 — than any other state.
The increasing case numbers should be reason enough to enforce a statewide mask mandate in schools, but DeSantis has decided to sacrifice Florida’s kids — especially those who are too young to be vaccinated — on the altar of personal freedom. In an executive order on July 30, DeSantis threatened to “withhold… state funds” from school districts that require masks. Some schools plan to move forward with mask mandates anyway.
Doubling down on the anti-mask stance, the Department of Health rule issued Friday states that students “may wear masks or facial coverings” but also said that parents can opt their children out of wearing masks. The rule laughably says that it is designed to “protect children with disabilities or health conditions” — those likely to be the most vulnerable to the virus — who might be “harmed” by masking protocols. The rule also bans “Covid-19 harassment,” which includes testing and masking requirements. And it prevents “any harassment or discriminatory treatment” of children who do not wear masks, so they cannot be excluded or isolated from the classroom or school activities, despite the risk they pose.
Despite the unchecked proliferation of the virus in his own state, DeSantis continues to blame Biden for the virus spreading, even as he defies recommendations from the CDC and administration, including that children wear masks in school.
But Florida parents are fighting back. So far, parents have filed two lawsuits against the executive order. One suit, filed on behalf of a father of three in Broward County, reads: “Florida is among the states with the highest number of Covid-19 victims in the country, and the number of afflicted people is growing rapidly. The danger to Plaintiff and his children and all others they come into contact with is severe, unreasonable, and growing by the day. The suit also says DeSantis’s order is unconstitutional because the Florida Constitution states that “adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools.”
DeSantis is not just endangering Florida children, he’s also bragging about it and using it to fundraise. The governor has traveled to Michigan this week to hold a number of fundraisers. DeSantis is expected to make a presidential run in 2024.
“Not only is Governor DeSantis not abiding by public health decisions,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday, “he’s fundraising off of this.”
The governor has also pushed unfounded and absurd conspiracy theories, such as the belief that Biden is letting in migrants with Covid-19 and sending them across the country to spread the virus. In fact, Biden has drawn criticism from liberals by extending a Trump-era public health order that allows border agents to immediately expel migrants who are caught crossing the border. But that won’t stop DeSantis from spreading his lies.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber called the governor the “Pied Piper of Covid-19, leading everybody off a cliff,” as he has also banned local governments from implementing mask requirements.
“We’re not allowed a mask edict now,” Gelber told The Guardian. “We were one of the first cities to require it, and the governor stopped allowing us to do it. Then immediately we saw a surge across our county and state.”
This article has been updated to reflect CDC numbers on pediatric hospitalizations in Florida.