Ron DeSantis is facing two legal challenges over his executive order preventing schools from imposing mask mandates on students as pediatric hospitals become ‘overwhelmed’ due to COVID cases in children.
‘The numbers of cases in our hospitals in children and our children’s hospitals are completely overwhelmed,’ Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University, told CNN on Friday.
‘Our pediatricians, the nursing, the staff are exhausted, and the children are suffering. And it is absolutely devastating,’ she continued. ‘Our children are very much affected. We’ve never seen numbers like this before.’
While some doctors are claiming the hospital systems are becoming inundated with children cases of COVID-19, the Department of Health and Human Services shows data to the contrary.
A hospital capacity data set shows only 46 pediatric patients were admitted to Florida hospitals with confirmed COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, bringing the total in the state to 135.
Florida has the second highest number of children in the hospital with COVID, falling behind Texas, which recorded a total of 142 as of Tuesday.
Children dying from COVID-19 is still extremely rare – even with the Delta variant surge.
Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando saw its first hospital death of the pandemic when a boy with pre-existing lung disease died there a few weeks ago, the hospital’s Division Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Kenneth Alexander said, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Fifty-eight per cent of Floridians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 49 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
The White House announced Friday that the U.S. has officially surpassed the 50 per cent mark of fully vaccinated adults. Last week, the Biden administration hit its July 4 goal one month late in getting 70 per cent of adults at least one dose.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing two lawsuits related to his executive order barring Florida schools from imposing mask mandates on students – instead giving the power to parents to decide
The lawsuits comes as children’s hospitals in Florida have become ‘overwhelmed’ with COVID cases. The Florida Hospital Association reported 22,783 new cases Friday – another record high from 21,683 reported on June 30
In Florida, 58% of adults have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. On Sunday, the CDC announced the U.S. surpassed the 50% mark for the number of adults fully vaccinated
DeSantis signed an order last month directing the Florida Departments of Health and Education to impose rules preventing implementation of mask mandates in schools.
The Republican governor said he wants to ‘protect parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.’
In response, DeSantis is now facing two separate lawsuits over his executive order, which were filed on Friday.
The first lawsuit, according to CNN, comes from a father of three and the second comes from a group of parents of school-aged children from counties all over Florida.
Florida officials vowed on Friday to pay for parents to move their children to private schools if they are ‘bullied’ for not wearing face masks in schools.
The Florida Department of Education approved an emergency rule to hand out private school vouchers to any parent wanting to take their children out of public schools that are enforcing mask mandates on students.
Such vouchers, offered through the Hope Scholarship, are usually used to move children from schools where they are the victims of bullying.
Under the emergency measure, however, the vouchers can now be used to move students out of school if they are subjected to so-called ‘COVID-19 harassment’ – where parents say a school’s mask mandate or other COVID-19 restrictions amount to harassment and discrimination of their children.
This new order comes in conjunction to DeSantis taking power away from schools to impose mask mandates through his executive order.
A lawsuit was filed Friday combatting the governor’s order.
Attorney Barry Silver claims DeSantis’ order is unconstitutional. Silver’s client is a father of three children, one who is ineligible to receive the vaccine and has a history of asthma.
‘Florida is among the states with the highest number of Covid-19 victims in the country, and the number of afflicted people is growing rapidly,’ the lawsuit says. ‘The danger to Plaintiff and his children and all others they come into contact with is severe, unreasonable, and growing by the day.’
It continues that the Florida Constitution states: ‘[A]dequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.’
The second lawsuit has some of the same arguments regarding the constitutionality of DeSantis’ order.
Florida set an all-time record for COVID hospitalizations on Friday, with 12,864 hospitalized in a single day
The plaintiffs include parents of school-aged children from counties all over Florida, including Miami-Dade, Orange, Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Alachua.
‘They are framing this as a parent choice issue when this is really a public health issue,’ Charles Gallagher, an attorney working on that lawsuit, told CNN.
Gallagher said the Florida Constitution guarantees a safe school environment.
He also argued that it gives counties the power to govern themselves, while DeSantis’ executive action strips the power away from school districts.
‘The Constitution is equal justice under law and therefore we think that we are on the right side of these facts,’ Gallagher said.
Children under the age of 12 are still not authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to receive any of the three COVID-19 vaccines that have emergency use authorization in the U.S.
Neither the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines have full FDA approval yet.
The fight between DeSantis and local school boards in Florida has been rising as cases surge with the emergence of the Delta variant and the increase in breakthrough cases in vaccinated people.
Last Friday, when DeSantis issued his executive order banning schools from issuing mask mandates when students return to class next month, he also promised that Florida will not introduce any new COVID-19 restrictions.
He threatened to withhold state funding from school districts if they did not comply.
COVID-19 cases are surging across the Sunshine State with officials recording the highest tally of new infections Friday since the start of the pandemic and children accounting for around a fifth of all new cases.
The Florida Department of Education approved an emergency rule Friday to hand out private school vouchers to any parent wanting to take their children out of public schools that have enforced mask mandates – arguing it amounts to ‘bullying’ or ‘harassment’
Florida’s Education Board unanimously approved the emergency measure in a meeting Friday allowing parents to request the vouchers if they feel COVID-19 protocols ‘pose a health or educational danger to their child,’ reported WSVN.
‘Unnecessarily isolating, quarantining, or subjecting children to physical COVID-19 constraints in schools poses a threat to developmental upbringing and should not occur absent a heightened showing of actual illness or serious risk of illness to other students,’ the board said.
Parents will be able to transfer their child to a private school or to another public school in another school district.
The rule defines COVID-19 harassment as ‘any threatening, discriminatory, insulting, or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct an individual student suffers in relation to, or as a result of, school district protocols for COVID-19, including masking requirements, the separation or isolation of students, or COVID-19 testing requirements, that have the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance.’
The average cost of private school tuition in Florida is $9,157 a year, according to Private School Review.
The decision to use a scheme designed to protect bullied children and taxpayer money for parents unhappy with mask rules was slammed by Florida Rep. Omari Hardy.
‘Florida’s Board of Education just agreed to use taxpayer dollars to pay private school tuition for kids who want to attend schools that don’t require masks,’ he tweeted.
‘Governor DeSantis & his minions are using their emergency powers to make the emergency worse.’
DeSantis has gone to war with school districts over COVID-19 protocols, banning mask mandates last Friday.
The governor said in a press conference that parents have the right to decide whether or not their children wear masks in the classroom.
‘Why would we have the government force masks on our kids when many of these kids are already immune through prior infection, they’re at virtually zero risk of significant illness and when virtually every school personnel had access to vaccines for months and months?’ DeSantis said.
At least four school districts have defied the order and imposed mask mandates in schools however others bowed to the state’s rules.
Both Gadsden and Broward County school districts announced they would not require students to wear masks – a walk-back on their previous plans.
Broward County School Board however then changed its mind again saying it will wait for ‘further guidance’ before making a final decision and that – in the meantime – students are required to wear masks.
Duval County Public Schools said parents can opt out if they don’t want their children wearing masks in its schools.
Protesters in favor of a mask mandate hold signs Tuesday outside the Duval County School Board building
Anti-mask protesters rally outside the Hillsborough County Schools Board meeting at the district office on July 27
Meanwhile, Alachua County Public Schools said it will have a mask mandate but only for the first two weeks of class.
DeSantis’ ability to enforce the executive order has been called into question with legal experts saying it is not an outright ban on mask mandates.
‘It is a loosely written riff on the governor’s political views on masking and parental rights chock-full of entirely unenforceable ‘Whereas’ clauses designed to garnish newspaper, television and Twitter soundbites, rather than judicial support in the event of inevitable lawsuits,’ legal analyst Paul Callan told CNN.
The CDC has recommended all teachers, staff, students and visitors wear face masks in schools regardless of vaccination status as the Delta variant continues to spread across America and most children are yet to get the shot.
DeSantis’ refusal to allow Florida education institutions to comply with the order has drawn the ire of Joe Biden this week.
The president hit out at DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott Wednesday blaming their refusal to embrace mask requirements for the surge in COVID-19 cases in the two Republican states.
‘They should free people to do the right thing, such as allowing teachers to ask students to wear masks,’ he continued.
‘I say to these governors, please help. But if you’re not going to help at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.’
Abbott has also said there will be no face mask requirements for Texas school children.
DeSantis fired back, accusing Biden of trying to ‘single out Florida’ and trying to shift attention to the increase in migrants crossing the southern border.
‘Why don’t you do your job? Why don’t you get this border secure?’ DeSantis said of Biden Wednesday.
‘And until you do that I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID from you.’
He added: ‘And I can tell you, Florida, we’re a free state. People are going to be free to choose.’
Tensions ramped up Thursday with Biden responding ‘Governor who?’ when asked about DeSantis.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona also joined in the spat, telling the two governors not to be the reason schools are interrupted.
‘Don’t be the reason why schools are interrupted. Our students have suffered enough,’ Cardona said.
‘Politics doesn’t have a role in this. Educators know what to do,’ he added.
On Friday Press Secretary Jen Psaki hit out at DeSantis in her press briefing accusing him of ‘fundraising’ off the back of it.
‘Parents in Florida, parents across the country, should have the ability and the knowledge that their kids are going to school and they’re in safe environments that shouldn’t be too much to ask,’ she added.
DeSantis, who is running for a second term in the gubernatorial mansion in next year’s election and is seen as a possible 2014 presidential candidate, has blasted out at least two fundraising emails this week, touting his COVID stance.
White House response coordinator Jeff Zients has said that Florida and Texas make up around one third of all new cases in the US over the last week.
The states are also responsible for more than one-third of new hospitalizations.
Florida set an all-time record for COVID hospitalizations on Friday, with 12,864 hospitalized in a single day.
The state has been reaching all-time highs since Tuesday when there were 10,389 patients – soaring past the previous peak of 10,170 hospitalizations on July 23 2020.
The Florida Hospital Association reported 22,783 new cases Friday – another record high from 21,683 reported on June 30.
The state releases its data just once a week on a Friday and is expected to show an increase in cases for the seventh week in a row.