KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday that schools would remain open and in-person instruction will continue despite rising coronavirus cases in Florida.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus
The governor made the announcement shortly after noon during a news conference at Boggy Creek Elementary School in Kissimmee.
"We will continue to offer parents choices for the spring semester, and every parent in Florida can take that to the bank," DeSantis said.
He vehemently said closing schools due to the coronavirus was "probably the biggest public health blunder in modern American history."
"The evidence has been remarkably clear since the spring that closing schools offers virtually nothing in terms of virus mitigation, but it poses huge costs on our kids, on our parents and on our society," the governor said.
DeSantis was joined by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and announced a new executive order related to students struggling with virtual learning.
"Parents must be notified if a student is struggling with virtual learning, still providing the parent the option to do virtual learning if they want, but they need to be notified, and the student must return to in-person instruction unless the parent affirmatively opts out and says they want to still remain virtual," DeSantis said.
The new emergency order continues the requirement that school districts offer in-person learning and contains school district funding protections.
"The data and the evidence [are] overwhelmingly clear: the virtual learning is just not the same as being in person," the governor said.
The governor defended his strategy to keep the state open, saying Florida's increase in coronavirus cases has not been anywhere near the spike in other states.
DeSantis said he has been busy working on how to distribute the vaccine in the state, traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Operation Warp Speed.
He again shot down a state mask mandate and lockdowns, saying they have not been effective in other states.
"I'm opposed to mandates, period. I don't think they work," DeSantis said. People in Florida wear [masks] when [they] go out. They don't have to be strung up by a bayonet to do it."
He said travel restrictions were beneficial at the start of the pandemic, but since the virus is now endemic, it is not helpful to society.
"Let's get travel from Brazil back. Let's get travel from the European countries back," the governor said. "To have these types of travel restrictions is not getting you any benefit, and I think it's causing a lot of people a lot of harm."
The state reported Sunday that there had been 992,660 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Florida, placing it only behind Texas and California.
DeSantis said Monday that hospitals in Florida are currently treating about 4,000 people for the coronavirus, as opposed to about 10,000 people during the summer.
Before Monday, the governor had not held a news conference in almost a month, speaking on Nov. 4 following the election.
Below is the full executive order issued Monday by DeSantis: