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Florida's elected leaders offer dueling messages on masking

'We must do our part to stop the spread of the virus,' Nikki Fried says
Posted at 5:30 PM, Jul 28, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is pushing Floridians, even the vaccinated, to put their masks back on.

The Democrat, who's also running for governor, told members of the capitol press corps Wednesday that the state needs to follow the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.

"We must do our part to stop the spread of the virus," Fried said.

The agency updated its position on masking earlier this week. Officials called for everyone, shots or not, to use face coverings at indoor public spaces and inside schools.

Officials said the recent surge of the more infectious Delta variant prompted the backtrack.

Nikki Fried speaks in Tallahassee on July 28, 2021, regarding COVID-19 case surge
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried speaks in Tallahassee on July 28, 2021, regarding the surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida.

The commissioner urged Floridians to listen.

"Their job is to protect America from contagious disease," Fried said of the CDC. "They are scientists. They are experts. They aren't partisan. They aren't elected. We've got to trust the science."

Fried also promised her office would start providing more frequent updates on COVID's spread in the state. Officials at the Florida Department of Health moved from daily to weekly reporting last month.

"That's what our goal is," Fried said. "If not daily, almost daily because again, information is key. Information to know exactly what’s happening here in the county, what’s happening across the state."

The commissioner's briefing came after Gov. Ron DeSantis hosted a closed-door roundtable with his health experts on Monday. The panel criticized masks, especially when used in schools.

Los Angeles psychiatrist Dr. Mark McDonald was among those attending virtually. He called the masking of students "child abuse."

Los Angeles psychiatrist Dr. Mark McDonald
Los Angeles psychiatrist Dr. Mark McDonald was part of a closed-door roundtable Monday with Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"There is no evidence to support the contention that masks prevent the transmission of respiratory illness at all," McDonald said. "And there is substantial evidence that shows children have been medically, physically and physiologically harmed by mandatory mask mandates."

The CDC said it based its mask recommendations on a slew of studies that it lists online. The agency reports "multi-layer cloth masks can both block up to 50-70 percent" of respiratory droplets and particles that carry the virus.

DeSantis has also vowed to prevent mask mandates in Florida. Recently, he threatened to call the Legislature back to fight any federal requirements for schools, should they arise.

"We have got to start putting our kids first," DeSantis said during a news conference last week.

"We have got to look out for their education. Is it really comfortable? Is it really healthy for them to be muzzled?"

Fried and DeSantis have agreed on one point -- vaccinations. Both have encouraged Floridians to get a shot, saying immunization remains the best way to prevent serious illness from to COVID-19.