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DeSantis Faces Lawsuit Over School Mask-Mandate Ban, And Florida Physicians Urge Action Amid COVID Surge

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Carl Juste
/
Miami Herald

The COVID-19 crisis continues in Florida this week as the delta variant of coronavirus rages throughout the state.

Florida reported nearly 25,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the highest one-day number since the start of the pandemic.

Last week saw an average of 1,800 Florida residents going into the hospital with the virus every day.

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The surge is coinciding with the start of the new school year and whether or not school districts will require students to wear masks has become a hot-button issue.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is standing firm on his opposition to school districts that require students to wear protective masks to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.

DeSantis has issued an executive order that seeks to prevent school districts from requiring students to wear masks.

Earlier in the week, DeSantis said that the choice to have children wear facial coverings should be left to their parents.

“But obviously we believe that the parent, rather than the government, should ultimately be able to make that decision,” said DeSantis. “If you’re talking about the federal government coming in and overruling parents in our communities, you know, that would be something that we would fight back vociferously against.”

A lawsuit filed by parents from across the state, aims to challenge DeSantis’ executive order against mask mandates in schools.

St. Petersburg attorney Charles Gallagher is representing the parents in the suit, which alleges that the governor's executive order violates a statute in the Florida Constitution that requires a uniform, efficient, safe and high quality system of public schools.

“In this current climate we are in right now, where we have almost one out of every five kids testing positive for COVID, we are nearing 100 percent capacity at hospitals — and the biggest change of all is that the delta variant is different, delta is attacking kids with abandon,” said Gallagher. “And so, having kids return to school where there is no mandatory mask requirement — which is contrary to the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the CDC — being in those spaces where they are co-mingled, so to speak, with unmasked, anonymous individuals, that's putting them at immediate risk and peril of walking into a place where they are in danger from day one.”

Nearly 1,000 physicians from across the state also signed their names on a letter addressed to DeSantis this week, expressing their concern for Florida children during this latest surge of the coronavirus, and urging the governor to adopt measures to keep kids safe.

Dr. Mona Mangat is an allergist and immunologist in St. Petersburg. She is one of the doctors behind the publication of the letter. She said the state’s messaging about COVID and its effect on children is alarming.

“Data is showing that Florida has the nation's highest number of children hospitalized for COVID-19," Mangat said. “Pediatric hospitals across the state are monitoring an average of 50 children for COVID a day, and that's up from six children per day just on June 26. And the leadership coming from the governor's office is abysmal. And I think that that's really what prompted us to write this letter and to just show that physicians across the state from all practices and backgrounds are supportive of science informing the governor's decisions. And that's not what's happening right now.”

The physicians asked DeSantis to repeal his executive order that prevents school districts from implementing COVID mitigation efforts, like mask wearing, and to encourage people who are eligible to get vaccinated. They also requested for the state to resume reporting COVID data daily, instead of weekly.

Andrea Perdomo is a producer for WLRN News.