TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis met with the state's top educator and health official Monday morning at the state Capitol building in Tallahassee to discuss the return to schools.
DeSantis was joined by Dr. Scott Atlas, adviser to President Donald Trump on the coronavirus pandemic, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, among others.
Atlas credited DeSantis with being "one of the first, if not the first, governor to understand that the strategy overall is really prioritizing who is going to be vulnerable here."
He said the priorities have to be on protecting high-risk individuals, making sure to prevent hospital overcrowding and opening society.
"Meaning, opening schools, opening the rest of society, because a prolonged lockdown is extraordinarily harmful," Atlas said. "And in the ways that it's being done here, I think, are really exemplary."
Atlas said Trump agrees that "the goal is to open schools in person."
Rivkees said county health departments have been working with schools to make sure the return to the classroom is done so safely. He said those districts that have already reopened have provided an important lesson for teachers and students.
"If you are sick, don't go to school," Rivkees said.
He also said people shouldn't go to school if they are awaiting COVID-19 test results.
DeSantis said school districts that are giving families a choice of how to return will help students who have to stay home so that they can transition to virtual learning without falling behind.
Corcoran said just under 60% of students statewide are back at brick-and-mortar schools, not including the 18 districts that started school this week.
"That's 1.6 million students of our 2.8 (million)," Corcoran said.
Atlas concluded the education roundtable by offering a scathing take on this country's reaction to the reopening of schools in the midst of the pandemic.
"We are the only country of our peer nations in the western world who are this hysterical about opening schools," Atlas said. "When you look at what's happened in the other countries -- the U.K., Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, England, Italy, Spain -- they are all opening schools. We here in the United States, I have people all over the world calling me and emailing me, 'What is going on here?' We have the data. There's extraordinarily low risk in children. There's very low risk in everybody else in the school, and when there are high-risk people, we must protect them, but we don't lock down the schools."
Atlas continued that the "goal of policy is absolutely not to stop all spread of COVID-19 to asymptomatic or very low-risk individuals."
"That's not the goal," he said. "The goal is to protect the vulnerable."
Atlas said Florida and the Trump administration, while not perfect, is doing that "better and better" through increased testing and a smarter use of resources.
"The goal of testing is to stop the spread to where it counts," he said.