Ron DeSantis Says 'It's Not Healthy' for Students to Wear Masks Amid New CDC Guidance

Ron DeSantis Says 'It's Not Healthy' for Students to Wear
Masks Amid New CDC Guidance 1

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said “it’s not healthy” for students to wear masks amid new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week that said teachers and students should return to wearing masks in schools, the Associated Press reported.

The Republican governor gave a speech Wednesday in Salt Lake City and ridiculed the CDC’s new guidance that also recommended people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 go back to wearing masks inside in public areas of “substantial or high transmission” due to the spread of the Delta variant.

“It’s not healthy for these students to be sitting there all day, 6-year-old kids in kindergarten covered in masks,” DeSantis said to an audience that was largely not wearing masks.

The CDC also recommended school staff and visitors to wear masks alongside teachers and students “regardless of vaccination status.”

For more reporting from the Associated Press see below.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said “it’s not healthy” for students to wear masks amid new CDC guidance. In this photo, DeSantis takes part in a roundtable discussion about the uprising in Cuba at the American Museum of the Cuba Diaspora on July 13, 2021 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“Did you not get the CDC’s memo?” DeSantis joked about the guidelines during his speech. “I don’t see you guys complying.”

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From Texas to South Dakota, Republican leaders responded with hostility and defiance to updated masking guidance from public health officials. The backlash reopened the culture war over pandemic restrictions just as efforts to persuade unvaccinated Americans to get shots appeared to be making headway.

Egged on by former President Donald Trump, the response reflects deep resistance among many GOP voters to restrictions aimed at containing a virus they feel poses minimal personal threat. The party is also tapping into growing frustration and confusion over ever-shifting rules and guidance.

But the resistance has real implications for a country desperate to emerge from the pandemic. Beyond vaccinations, there are few tools other than mask-wearing and social distancing to contain the spread of the Delta variant, which studies have shown to be far more contagious than the original strain.

Many Republican leaders, however, are blocking preventative measures, potentially making it harder to tame virus outbreaks in conservative communities.

At least 18 Republican-led states have moved to prohibit vaccine passports or to ban public entities from requiring proof of vaccination. And some have prohibited schools from requiring any student or teacher to wear a mask or be vaccinated.

In its announcement, the CDC cited troubling new — thus far unpublished — research that found that fully vaccinated people can spread the Delta variant just like the unvaccinated, putting those who haven’t received the shots or who have compromised immune systems at heightened risk. The CDC also recommended that all teachers, staff and students wear masks inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

The backlash was swift.

“We won’t go back. We won’t mask our children,” declared Trump, who routinely cast doubt on the value of mask-wearing and rarely wore one in public while he was in office. “Why do Democrats distrust the science?”

Missouri Governor Mike Parson called the new guidance “disappointing and concerning” and “inconsistent with the overwhelming evidence surrounding the efficacy of the vaccines and their proven results.”

He, like others, warned that the measure would undermine efforts to encourage vaccine holdouts to get their shots by casting further doubt on the efficacy of approved vaccines, which have been shown to dramatically decrease the risk of death or hospitalization, despite the occurrence of breakthrough cases.

Last week, White House officials reported that vaccination rates were on the rise in some states where COVID-19 cases were soaring, as more Republican leaders implored their constituents to lay lingering doubts aside and get the shots to protect themselves. That includes Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who has pleaded with unvaccinated residents, saying they are the ones “letting us down.”

“This self-inflicted setback encourages skepticism and vaccine hesitancy at a time when the goal is to prevent serious illnesses and deaths from COVID-19 through vaccination,” Parson tweeted. “This decision only promotes fear & further division among our citizens.”

The announcement “will unfortunately only diminish confidence in the vaccine and create more challenges for public health officials 一 people who have worked tirelessly to increase vaccination rates,” echoed Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who has banned mask and vaccine mandates in his state.

In his Wednesday speech, DeSantis took particular aim at the CDC’s call for kids to wear masks in the classroom.

However, there is no evidence that wearing masks is harmful to children older than toddler age.

And in South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem called out the CDC for shifting its position on masking “AGAIN.” She said that those who are worried about the virus can get vaccinated, wear a mask or stay home, but that “Changing CDC guidelines don’t help ensure the public’s trust.”

On Capitol Hill, some Republicans were in revolt after the Capitol’s attending physician sent a memo informing members that masks would again have to be worn inside the House at all times.

The change set off a round robin of insults, with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy “a moron” after McCarthy tweeted, “The threat of bringing masks back is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state.”

The mandate also prompted an angry confrontation, as Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., verbally assailed Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, who exited the House chamber and walked past her without a face covering.

Conservatives also forced a vote to adjourn the chamber in protest to the mandate, which was defeated along mostly party lines.

“We have a crisis at our border, and we’re playing footsie with mask mandates in the people’s House,” railed Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, the motion’s sponsor. “The American people are fed up. They want to go back to life. They want to go back to business. They want to go back to school without their children being forced to wear masks.”

The nation is averaging nearly 62,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, and the vast majority of those hospitalized and dying haven’t been vaccinated. As of Sunday, 69 percent of American adults had received one vaccine dose, and 60 percent had been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Last year, early on in the pandemic, public health officials told Americans that masks offered little protection against the virus (and could even increase the risk of infection). The guidance was driven by a lack of knowledge about how the novel virus spread and a desire to save limited mask supplies for medical workers. But the CDC soon changed course and advised Americans to wear masks indoors and outdoors if they were within 6 feet (1.8 meters) of one another.

Then in April of this year, as vaccination rates rose sharply, the agency eased its guidelines, saying fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to wear masks outdoors unless they were in big crowds of strangers. In May, the guidance was eased further, saying fully vaccinated people could safely stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

Subsequent CDC guidance said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks at schools, either.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House principal deputy press secretary, on Wednesday defended the changes, saying the CDC “did exactly what it was supposed to do.”

“The CDC has to adapt to the virus,” she said, “and unfortunately because not enough Americans have stepped up to get vaccinated, they had to provide new guidance to help save lives.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke out against new CDC mask guidelines during his speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

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