DeSantis says there will be no mask mandates in Florida schools

As COVID-19 cases are again on the rise across the country, this time due to the delta variant, some are calling for masks to be made mandatory once more in school classrooms. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says that won't happen in the Sunshine State.

"There's been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level imposing compulsory masks on kids. We're not doing that in Florida, OK?" DeSantis said during a Thursday press conference in Fort Pierce. "We need our kids to breathe."

Earlier this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the academy wants to "go the extra mile" to make sure kids are protected, but said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is closely monitoring the situation.

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Fauci said the guidance is out of an abundance of caution due to the rise in cases blamed on the delta variant of the coronavirus. That guidance is different from the CDC, which so far has advised mask-wearing in schools just for unvaccinated children and adults.

That did not stop DeSantis from insinuating that Fauci and others at the federal level were trying to make masks in schools mandatory.

"There shouldn't be any coercive mandates on our schools. There's going to be, it looks like, a campaign in Washington to try to change that," DeSantis said. "At the end of the day, we gotta start putting our kids first. Is it really comfortable, is it really healthy for them to be muzzled and have their breathing obstructed all day long in school? I don't think it is."

The American Academy of Pediatrics said their recommendation was due to a large proportion of students being ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says will not be available to children 12 and under until later this year.

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"There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated," said Dr. Sara Bode, chair-person elect of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee. "This is why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19. Universal masking is one of those tools, and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well. It’s also the most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of needing to monitor everyone’s vaccination status."

Still, many school districts across the Tampa Bay area have voted to make masks optional in schools this fall, and despite surging coronavirus cases, they say they are not reversing their new policies.

Hillsborough, Manatee, Polk, and Sarasota public school officials all say they plan to keep masks optional when school opens back up next month. Pinellas and Pasco school officials have not responded to FOX 13 requests on their mask rules for the next school year.

New coronavirus cases are on the rise across the Sunshine State. COVID-19 cases nearly doubled last week, topping 45,000.

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The rise in new cases is happening across all age groups, including children. Epidemiologists say they’re seeing an 87% increase in cases among children under 12 and an 84% increase in kids and teens ages 12 to 19.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete have reported record numbers of pediatric patients testing positive for COVID-19 and with it, an uptick in emergency room visits.  

"In our last seven days, we’ve seen more patients [with COVID-19] than any other seven days since the pandemic began," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Perno. "We’re seeing a dramatic increase in kids."