WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — With COVID-19 cases and hospitalization continuing to surge in Florida, more than 800 doctors from across the state on Thursday sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking that he repeal his anti-mask order in schools.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus
The move comes as many school districts started classes this week for the fall semester.
The governor's executive order prohibits local school districts from issuing mask mandates for students. However, some districts, including Palm Beach County, have offered opt-out options to skirt the order.
The letter from the doctors to the governor demands the following:
- Repeal the anti-mask order and encourage local school districts to implement safeguards that can minimize the spread of COVID-19 like mask-wearing
- Resume reporting daily COVID-19 data
- Do more to increase vaccinations
"Gov. Ron DeSantis is willfully exposing children and their families to COVID-19 infection and sickness, and as physicians, we are united in expressing our anger and frustration at his mismanagement of Florida's pandemic response," said Dr. Mona Mangat, a St. Petersburg immunologist and Board Member for the Committee to Protect Health Care.
Palm Beach County's new superintendent of public schools said Thursday that 440 students have been quarantined because of COVID-19 after just two days of in-classroom instruction.
"Florida is in the middle of a five-alarm fire and our letter is a red alert for Gov. Ron DeSantis to wake up and repeal his executive order," said Dr. Bernard Ashby, a Miami cardiologist.
The governor has shown no sign that he will repeal his anti-mask order.
During a Thursday news conference, DeSantis said the state is deploying a rapid response mobile unit that will deliver monoclonal antibody treatments for people infected with the coronavirus.
Read the full letter sent by the doctors to DeSantis:
"Let's work together to protect Florida children
Physicians across Florida are concerned about Florida’s children and their risk of COVID-19 infections. As the virus burns through Florida, health care providers feel we are fighting this fire without any leadership from Gov. Ron DeSantis. Blocking communities from making local decisions to protect themselves with his top-down, one-size-fits-all edict will only make matters worse.
His executive order prohibiting local school districts from implementing COVID-19 safeguards 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. Gov. DeSantis has effectively outlawed the former, and all but ignored the latter. With schools resuming and children returning to classrooms, Gov. DeSantis’ anti-safety strategy puts people at risk, including children.
This past week, COVID-19 has infected more than 19,000 Floridians every day, the worst weekly infection rate since the pandemic began, and hospitalized an average of 1,800 Floridians daily. In the last week of July, at least 35 children were hospitalized every day for COVID-19 in Florida, a number that is very likely an undercount since Gov. DeSantis stopped sharing COVID-19 statistics.
Fewer than half of eligible Floridians are fully vaccinated. At the same time, COVID-19 vaccinations are authorized for use only in people ages 12 and older -- meaning 120,000 pre-K- to fifth-graders in the Tampa Bay area can’t be vaccinated.
To protect the health of vulnerable Floridians, we are calling on Gov. DeSantis to do three things immediately.
One, Gov. DeSantis must repeal his reckless executive order and allow and encourage local school districts to implement safeguards that can minimize COVID-19 spread such as mask-wearing. Two, his administration must resume reporting COVID-19 daily data in full. And three, Gov. DeSantis must do much more to get vaccinations in people’s arms.
Gov. DeSantis should strongly encourage every eligible Floridian to get vaccinated and make vaccinations easier, including in local schools.
Shots in arms are only part of an effective safety strategy. For children ineligible for a vaccine, the only protection they have against COVID-19 is for them to wear a mask, and for those around them to do the same. As physicians, we agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that all schools have students, staff and teachers wear masks, which scientific evidence shows reduces COVID-19 spread.
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.
Asking local schools and jurisdictions to look the other way while COVID-19 tears through our communities, or lose funding if they implement safeguards, won’t protect kids. Waving the flag of personal choice, as Gov. DeSantis does, even as those choices endanger the lives of others only robs millions of Floridians of the freedom to eat out, be with their loved ones and, yes, learn in schools safely.
Enough is enough. Florida needs to mask up, get vaccinated, and have a governor willing to lead."
Below is a list of the doctors from Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast who signed the letter:
- Jeffrey Amado, MD; Anesthesiology (Palm Beach Gardens)
- Annapoorna Arunachalam, MD; Endocrinology (West Palm Beach)
- Ankush Bansal, MD; Internal Medicine (Delray Beach)
- Siva Prasad Bellam, MD; Medical Oncology (Palm City)
- Jonathan Berger, MD; Internal Medicine (Boca Raton)
- Eduardo Borges, MD; Neurology (Port St. Lucie)
- Rachel Ciaccio, MD; Obstetrics and Gynecology (Boca Raton)
- Lee Edelstein, MD; Pediatrics (Lake Worth)
- Veronica Espinoza, MD; Pediatrics (Palm City)
- Richard D. Farber, MD; Radiology (Palm Beach Gardens)
- Susan Foley, MD; Pediatrics (Palm Beach Gardens)
- Julie Forero, DO; Dermatology (Boynton Beach)
- Keith Foster, MD; Physiatry (Boca Raton)
- Robert Friedman, MD; Neurology (Palm Beach Gardens)
- Teresa Gallo-Thys, DO; Internal Medicine (Boynton Beach)
- Pedro I Garcia, MD PhD; Neuropsychiatry (Indian River Shores)
- Howard Goldman, MD; Ophthalmology (Delray Beach)
- Dyann Gormezano, MD; Critical Care (Jupiter)
- Gabriel Guerrero, MD; Endocrinology (Palm City)
- Louis Hafken, MD; Psychiatry (Delray Beach)
- Daniella Heller, MD; Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Delray Beach)
- Alexander Kammer, MD; Gynecology (Boca Raton)
- Samuel Kaufman, MD; Gynecology (Delray Beach)
- Madhavi Kaza, DO; Radiology (Boca Raton)
- Melissa Krantzow, MD; Pediatrics (Boca Raton)
- Bernier Lauredan, MD; Medical Management (Port St. Lucie)
- Alan LeRoy, MD; Obstetrics and Gynecology (West Palm Beach)
- Donald Levin, MD; Psychiatry (Palm Beach Gardens)
- Daniel Lichtstein, MD; Internal Medicine (Boca Raton)
- Nicole Mark, DO; Pediatrics (Boca Raton)
- Ilka McKinney, MD; Emergency Medicine (Port Saint Lucie)
- Heidi McNaney-Flint, MD; Gynecology (Stuart)
- Rebecca McPherson, MD; Neonatology (Jensen Beach)
- Urmila Mistry, MD; Internal Medicine (Jupiter)
- Gomathy Mohan, MD; Pediatrics (Royal Palm Beach)
- Elizabeth Oteiza, MD; Ophthalmology (Boynton Beach)
- Miladys Palau Collazo, MD; Pediatric Endocrinology (Port St Licie)
- Alberto Perez Dimaggio, MD; Anesthesiology (Vero Beach)
- John Peters, DO; Pediatric Gastroenterology (Palm Beach Gardens)
- Cristina Pirez de Cardenas, MD; Pediatrics (Jupiter)
- Amber Posey, DO; Family Practice (Palm City)
- Jenna Queller, MD; Dermatology (Boca Raton)
- Madhavi Ravella, MD; Internal Medicine (West Palm Beach)
- Sarath Ravella, MD; Internal Medicine (West Palm Beach)
- Steve Rosenberg, MD; Dermatology (Palm Beach)
- Miranda Rosenberg, MD; Dermatology (West Palm Beach)
- John Rubin, MD; Internal Medicine (Boca Raton)
- Diego Rubinowicz, MD; Urology (Loxahatchee)
- Daniela Saadia, MD; Neurology (Stuart)
- Nanji Shekhat, MD; Psychiatry (Wellington)
- Dawn Sherling, MD; Internal Medicine (Boca Raton)
- Melvyn Sherman, DO; Family Medicine (Boca Raton)
- Christine Shim, MD; Family Medicine (Delray Beach)
- Deeptaz Sibia, DO; Emergency medicine (Boynton Beach)
- Christiana Siegel, DO; Pediatric Hospitalist (Palm Beach Gardens)
- Barry Simon, MD; Radiology (Palm Beach Gardens)
- Nidhi Sinha, MD; Anesthesiology (Boca Raton)
- Gayatri Siram, MD; Internal Medicine (Boca Raton)
- Sam Snyder, DO; Internal Medicine and Nephrology (Boynton Beach)
- Christina Stiles, MD; Internal Medicine (Delray Beach)
- Stacey Stout, MD; Pediatrics (Lake Worth)
- Lenny Sukienik, DO; Internal Medicine (Loxahatchee)
- Rachel Tate, MD; Rheumatology (West Palm Beach)
- Prabha Viralam, MD; Family Medicine (North Palm Beach)
- Stuart Wanuck, MD; Urology (Palm Beach Gardens)
- Xiaomei Zeng, MD; Obstetrics and Gynecology (Boca Raton)
- Maria R Zequeira, MD; Internal Medicine (West Palm Beach)
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona also sent a letter to DeSantis and State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to allow school districts to make their own mask decisions. You can read the letter here.