School districts across Florida which defied their governor by imposing a coronavirus mask mandate can carry on with their policies, a Florida judge has ruled.
The decision ends a legal pause, or “stay,” to the public health measures that was automatically triggered when the state government appealed their earlier loss in a lawsuit from pro-mask parents.
The ruling, from Florida Second Circuit Judge John Cooper, found that the state government wouldn’t be harmed if the mask mandates resumed while its appeal goes forward — while children could suffer if the policies weren’t put back in place in the interim.
"It’s undisputed that in Florida we are in the midst of a Covid pandemic. Based on the evidence I’ve heard, there’s no harm to the state if the stay is set aside," the judge said during a hearing on Wednesday. "It’s undisputed that the Delta variant is far more infectious than the prior version of the virus, and that children are more susceptible to the Delta variant than to the form from a year ago.
"In particular for children under 12, they cannot be vaccinated. Therefore, there’s really only one or two means to protect them against the virus ... either stay at home, or mask,” he added.
The Florida government, led by Republican Ron DeSantis, is avowedly against mask mandates, and has already taken the case to higher court, after the same judge ruled two weeks ago that the mask ban itself overstepped legal bounds.
“Why don’t we just empower parents,” Mr DeSantis said last week. “Let them make the best decision for their kids and I think it’ll end up working out.”
In July, the DeSantis administration issued an executive order requiring the Florida departments of education and health to issue emergency rules that parents ultimately make the choice over whether children wear masks, and that the state would financially punish districts that put forth mask mandates. Thirteen districts went forward with mask mandates anyway, in defiance of the edict.
States in the US South like South Carolina and Florida have been particularly hard hit by the resurgent coronavirus, as have rural areas throughout the country. Some medical commentators have noted that if Florida was another country, given its high Covid rates, the US would likely ban travellers from it.
For a time in August, the state had the nation’s highest Covid hospitalisation rate in the country.
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