An emergency rule issued by Florida's new surgeon general allows students who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to remain at school as long as they're asymptomatic.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that the state will be taking a "symptoms-based approach" to COVID-19 in schools that will no longer require asymptomatic students to be quarantined or stay home.
Students who are sick will still have to stay home, and students who were in close contact with a COVID-19 case but aren't experiencing symptoms should still be monitored, DeSantis said.
DeSantis said keeping healthy kids out of classrooms is "incredibly disruptive," and said parents should determine whether a healthy child stays home or goes to school.
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"The parents have a right to have their healthy kids in schools," DeSantis said.
DeSantis made the announcement at a news conference in Kissimmee Wednesday with Florida's new surgeon general Dr. Joseph Ladapo and state education commissioner Richard Corcoran.
“We respect that maybe some parents feel less comfortable sending their kids back to school after being exposed, and so the new rule allows for those parents to keep their kids home for a period of time, and the new rule also allows for parents letting their healthy child go back to school,” Dr. Ladapo said.
Florida’s new surgeon general says allowing parents to make the decision on quarantines makes sense because he says keeping kids home from school, even if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, does more harm than good.
“I continue to think that sadly, there is an infusion of politics into a debate that should be absolutely driven uniquely by science and public health concerns,” said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Dr. Ladapo’s new policy also maintains the state’s ban on mandatory mask mandates, which 13 school districts are currently defying.
“I believe that our position will remain the same,” Carvalho said, pointing out that in his district, kids in quarantine can come back to school in as few as five days if they test negative.
Dr. Ladapo’s policies are outliers, according to Dr. Lisa Gwynn, who is the president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“I’m shocked and I’m very disappointed. We are, in my opinion, taking one step back, a big step back in controlling this pandemic, especially in our schools,” Dr. Gwynn said.
She says allowing parents to decide whether or not to quarantine their exposed kids is a mistake not supported by science.
“I would say that we are going against all of the recommendations of the experts in infectious disease, in pediatrics, in public health,” said Dr. Gwynn, who pointed out that in Florida and nationwide, COVID infections among children are still “extremely high.”
We have not received a response from Broward County Public Schools about the new directive from the state. The Broward Teachers Union did say the new policy is “misguided” and is “fixing what’s not broken.”
Dr. Ladapo, who is not an infectious disease expert, is controversial in the medical community because he has expressed contrarian views on vaccines, masking, and other pandemic protocols.