More than 800 doctors sign letter criticising DeSantis over school mask rules

Mr DeSantis said he does not view Covid-19 as a significant risk to children

Graig Graziosi
Thursday 12 August 2021 20:57 BST
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A group of more than 800 doctors signed a letter calling on Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida to repeal an executive order he issued prohibiting local officials from requiring students to wear masks when they return to school.

Mr DeSantis used his executive power to head off any attempts by local officials to force students to wear masks in the classroom. The order came in the wake of updated CDC guidance recommending that all students, teachers and support staff wear masks when the school year begins.

The governor has also used his executive powers to end local emergency mandates restricting businesses.

The letter comes at a time when the Delta variant of the coronavirus is ravaging Florida, which has one of the highest average infection rates on the planet.

Mr DeSantis has called on residents to take the coronavirus vaccines. The state is currently slightly behind the national average, with 49 per cent of adults fully vaccinated, but the doctors called on Mr DeSantis to "do much more" to encourage residents to take the shot.

The doctors claimed in their letter that Mr DeSantis' order "exposes every child to a virus that is deadlier than the flu, as contagious as smallpox and preventable with two basic mitigation measures: mask use and vaccinations”.

"What's heartbreaking and infuriating for us as doctors is watching children needlessly suffer while Gov DeSantis rejects simple protections such as masks and vaccinations," the doctors said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently reported an 85 per cent increase of coronavirus cases in children for the week ending 29 July. The AAP has also called on the US Food and Drug Administration to fast-track an emergency authorisation allowing children under 12 to take the coronavirus vaccines. The group said the risk of the Delta variant to children was enough to warrant the emergency approval.

Despite the AAP's stance, Mr DeSantis has downplayed the risk of Covid-19 in children, claiming that another respiratory disease, RSV, is more of a threat.

“COVID, I view, is a very minor risk,” he said during a press briefing. “RSV is more or more serious. That is something that I would say, just as a parent of young kids, that’s a much more significant risk than COVID has proven to be.”

RSV is a leading cause of bronchitis, and is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Much like the coronavirus, the infection is spread through droplets in the air or on surfaces.

It is not clear why, if Mr DeSantis is concerned with RSV, he would not support mask use in schools, as masks would also reduce the spread of RSV between children.

Some school districts in Florida have already signified that they plan to defy the governor's order and require mask use in their schools.

Mr DeSantis has threatened to withhold educator salaries if they defy his order. At least two lawsuits from educators challenging the governor’s order on the grounds of constitutionality have already been filed.

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