TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's governor on Monday threatened state legislative action to prevent face masks from being mandated in schools throughout the Sunshine State.
During a COVID-19 roundtable discussion in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis once again reiterated his firm stance that school districts should not impose mask mandates on students and staff members, even as coronavirus cases surge due to the highly contagious Delta variant.
"Our view is that this should absolutely not be imposed. It should not be mandated," DeSantis said.
School districts in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee counties have all announced that facial coverings will be optional for students, staffers, and visitors when the 2021/22 academic year starts in two weeks.
DeSantis said there has been talk of a federal mask mandate on schools. However, he said the Florida Legislature is prepared to hold a special session to "provide protections for parents and kids who just want to breathe freely."
The governor's staunch opinion on masks for children defies recent recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which earlier this month said anyone over the age of two should wear a facial covering, regardless of their vaccination status, when the new school year begins.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Tuesday that all K-12 students, staff members, and visitors -- vaccinated or not -- should wear masks inside schools.
Fears are mounting among parents and doctors about the highly contagious Delta variant. While medical officials said the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are all effective against the variant, only children 12 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine, leaving many students vulnerable to the virus.
During Monday's roundtable in Tallahassee, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, said the threat of the Delta variant isn't strong enough to require school mask mandates because many teachers have already been vaccinated against COVID-19.
"The evidence continues to show that [children] are not spreaders of the disease in an efficient way," Bhattacharya said. "The masks themselves have a marginal, if any benefit, marginal benefit in slowing the spread of the disease."
Child psychiatrist Mark McDonald said the psychological harm inflicted by facial coverings outweighs any potential benefits in stopping the spread of the virus.
"Masking children is child abuse. There is no evidence to support the contention that masks prevent the transmission of respiratory illness through viruses at all," McDonald said. "Every thoughtful, rational adult knows that children do not need to have their faces covered."