Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated his stance against students wearing masks for the upcoming school year, saying any attempt by the federal government to mandate facial coverings for kids will be fought by the state.
"We're not doing that in Florida, we want our kids to be able to be kids, we need them to be able to breathe," DeSantis said at a Thursday news conference. "It's terribly uncomfortable for them to do it, there's not very much science behind it, there's some schools we had, didn't do masks, others did, the outcomes were not meaningfully different."
DeSantis' comments came as Florida has been experiencing a recent spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
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The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday recommended universal masking in schools, even for those who are vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month recommended mask-wearing indoors only for students and staff who are not fully vaccinated.
The vaccine has not been approved for children under 12. If it shown to be safe and effective for younger ages, vaccine manufacturers may seek emergency authorization sometime this fall or winter.
"Parents obviously can equip their kid to go to school however they want, but there shouldn't be any coercive mandates on our schools," DeSantis said Thursday. "As of right now all the school districts are going in that direction, but there is gonna be it looks like a campaign from Washington to try to change that."
"We look forward to a normal school year, obviously parents can make decisions how they want to, and we wouldn't restrict that but we certainly will not have any mandates on students or parents in the upcoming school year," DeSantis said.
DeSantis also reacted to infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci saying earlier this week that it's reasonable for kids 3 and older to wear masks in the upcoming school year.
"At the end of the day, we've got to start putting our kids first, we gotta look out for their education. Is it really comfortable, is it really healthy for them to be muzzled and have their breathing obstructed all day long in school? I don't think it is," DeSantis said. "I have a 3-year-old son, you got people like Fauci saying he should be muzzled, that you should be throwing masks on these 3-year-old kids, it's totally unacceptable and certainly unacceptable to have any level of government imposing that on parents and on kids."
Earlier Thursday, an activist doctor group released a statement slamming DeSantis's COVID-19 response.
"While DeSantis is traveling around bragging about Florida’s handling of the pandemic, or lack thereof, and making fun of Dr. Fauci, doctors here are feeling like we’re back at square one again,” said Dr. Bernard Ashby, a cardiologist in Miami and Florida State Lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care. "After months and months of losing patients, friends, and family members — nearly 40,000 Floridians in total so far — it is beyond discouraging to see DeSantis celebrating. As a physician and Floridian, I am frankly angry and ashamed."