The Alachua County School Board in Florida’s Gainesville area defied Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ executive order in a move to extend its mask mandate for another two months, WJXT reported.
The school board voted Tuesday night to continue its mask mandate in which students can only opt out of donning a face covering with a doctor’s note, violating DeSantis’ order. Under the governor’s executive order issued July 30, students can decline wearing a mask without a doctor’s note or medical permissions.
The school board’s mask mandate was originally set to last two weeks, effective on Aug. 10.
“For more than 500 days, I have spent every single day worrying about (our children’s) safety and have fought every single day to try and give them every single thing they need,” said a physician during public comments at the school board’s meeting Tuesday. “Universal masking saves lives and reduces transmission of this horrible infection.”
On Tuesday, Florida’s Board of Education unanimously voted to consider penalties such as loss of funding for schools that go against DeSantis’ order, the Associated Press reported.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Students in Florida’s Broward County went back to school under a mask mandate Wednesday, even as their school board faced threats of severe penalties for defying DeSantis.
And school officials in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties planned to address the public health measure later Wednesday, hoping to reduce infections in classrooms.
In Miami, Florida’s largest school district with 334,000 students, a task force of medical experts recommended students should be required to wear masks when they return to classrooms next week. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho agreed and the school board was expected to meet to discuss the measure Wednesday.
In Broward County, the state’s second-largest district with 261,000 students, two teachers and an assistant teacher died from COVID-19 last week. In Miami, a 13-year-old student and four district employees have died from the virus in recent weeks, Carvalho said.
Hospitalizations have risen this week in the state after slowing down over the weekend. Hospitals are reporting 16,721 patients with COVID-19, compared to Tuesday’s tally of 16,521, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 55 percent — more than 3,600 patients — of intensive care unit patients have COVID-19.
Many hospitals across the state are expecting critical staffing shortages in the next week. Half the hospitals in Florida have stopped accepting transfer patients from other facilities.
“There can be no question that many Florida hospitals are stretched to their absolute limits,” said Mary Mayhew, president of the Florida Hospital Association.
The fire chief of a central Florida county on Wednesday asked that residents refrain from making 911 calls except for the most serious emergencies. The fire department for the county located between Tampa and Orlando typically responds to about 280 calls a day this time of year. In recent weeks, it has been responding to between 340 and 400 calls each day.
Most school districts have adopted optional mask policies or given options to parents to easily opt out of requirements. Mask-wearing is optional in schools in Hillsborough County, the third-largest district, with more than 206,000 students. Within days, infections forced thousands of students into isolation, having tested positive for COVID-19, or into quarantine, which means they had close contact with a positive case.
By Wednesday morning, the number of COVID-19 cases in Hillsborough County schools stood at 1,695 students, teachers and staff, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. Through Tuesday, some 8,400 students and 307 employees were either in isolation or quarantine.
With so many classrooms being abandoned, the Hillsborough school board called an emergency meeting for Wednesday to address calls for a stricter mask policy, and possibly fewer quarantines for students who appear healthy despite being exposed.
Florida’s Board of Education voted to consider sanctions that also include removal of school board members and a report to the state Legislature, which could take additional action for defying the governor’s order to provide an easy opt-out for parents who don’t want their children wearing masks.
The Alachua County School Board that violated the governor’s order serves nearly 30,000 students.