Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said on Friday he’s planning to sign an executive order aimed at making all school districts in the state “mask-optional,” despite Florida’s covid cases and hospitalizations quickly soaring toward record highs.
DeSantis said at a briefing the executive order will direct the state’s Department of Education and Department of Health to enact emergency rules to make sure “parents’ rights are protected” when it comes to whether children should wear masks.
The order appears to come in direct response to the Broward County School Board’s vote on Wednesday to enact a mask mandate in the district’s schools, a decision the staunchly anti-mandate DeSantis had said “will be addressed.”
Florida is in the midst of a massive covid surge, with cases and hospitalizations rising rapidly.
The delta variant is also leading to a surge in children being hospitalized, with Jacksonville reportedly dealing with a record-high number of children in hospitals while cities like Palm Beach and St. Petersburg have also recorded spikes.
“There will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber (D) sent a letter to DeSantis on Thursday urging him to allow localities to enforce mask mandates and to lift the ban on vaccine passports. He also asked for the state to restore its online covid dashboard, which was an outlet for daily covid data updates earlier in the pandemic.
Florida is leading the nation in new covid cases, making up about one out of every five cases reported in the U.S. recently. But DeSantis, who’s long been against any type of restriction, is showing no signs of wavering from that stance. Despite constant criticism from his political opponents on the issue, statistics show Florida has actually fared better than most states during the pandemic in terms of deaths. According to the New York Times, Florida is 26th in covid deaths per capita, behind several states that had much stricter restrictions in place. DeSantis has also encouraged vaccinations, saying they are “saving lives,” but shots for now are only available for children ages 12 and up. The executive order means Florida is set to join at least nine other states, all with Republican governors, that are banning school districts from enacting mask mandates. The bans do not follow the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which issued guidance earlier this month recommending all students over the age of 2 and all school staff wear masks this fall, regardless of vaccination status.