TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida students who are exposed to COVID-19 won't have to quarantine from school if they're not showing symptoms of the virus, according to a new emergency rule issued by the state's surgeon general on Wednesday.
The directive from Dr. Joseph Ladapo -- whose appointment was announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday -- will likely prevent thousands of students statewide from having to stay home from school after being exposed to the coronavirus.
"Quarantining healthy students is incredible damaging for their educational advancements," DeSantis said Wednesday during a news conference in Kissimmee. "It's also incredibly disruptive for families all throughout the state of Florida."
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Under the emergency rule, if a student is exposed to a positive case of COVID-19 but is asymptomatic, their parent or guardian can decide "how their child receives education."
Students will be allowed to attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property without restrictions "so long as the student remains asymptomatic."
If a parent or guardian desires, the student may quarantine at home for no more than seven days "from the date of last direct contact" with the infected person.
If, however, the student becomes symptomatic or tests positive for COVID-19, they can't attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property until one of the following conditions is met:
- The student receives a negative diagnostic COVID-19 test and is asymptomatic
- 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms or positive test result, the student has had no fever for 24 hours, and the student's other symptoms are improving
- The student receives written permission to return to school "from a medical doctor licensed under chapter 458, an osteopathic physician licensed under chapter 459, or an advanced registered nurse practitioner licensed under chapter 464."
The rule states that "direct contact" with a COVID-19 positive individual means exposure for at least 15 minutes within six feet.
Calling the emergency order a "symptoms-based approach," DeSantis said schools are not driving the epidemic, and as a result, healthy students should not be kept out of classrooms.
"We want to make sure we're following that data. We're following science," DeSantis said.
Ladapo argued that learning losses from keeping healthy children out of school outweigh any potential medical benefits of quarantining students as a precaution.
"It's not a sensible policy, so we're not going to do it," Ladapo said. "That's how we're gonna lead public health. It make sense, guys. It's just benefits and costs."
School districts in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee counties said they will follow Ladapo's new emergency rule.
Ladapo's directive issued Wednesday also reiterates that local school districts may issue facial covering requirements for students. However, "the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt the student out of wearing a face covering or mask at the parent or legal guardian's sole discretion."
At least a dozen school districts throughout the state -- including Palm Beach and Indian River counties -- have violated that provision by making masks mandatory without the ability for children to opt out.
Ladapo, who was an associate professor at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, said Tuesday he hopes Florida will set an example for other states when it comes to approaching public health.
"Florida will completely reject fear as a way of making policies in public health," Ladapo said. "So we're done with fear."
Ladapo has questioned face masks and the COVID-19 vaccine, writing in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last year that masks are a distraction from the pandemic reality.
"The state should be promoting good health, and vaccination isn't the only path to that," Ladapo said Tuesday. "It's been treated almost like a religion, and that's just senseless, right? There are lots of good pathways to health, and vaccination's not the only one."
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