CAPE CORAL, Fla. – Despite a surge of COVID-19 cases in the state of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference Friday morning and said he would not be deterred by “a movement to impose more restrictions on the American people.”
“In Florida, there will be no lockdowns, there will be no school closures, there will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida,” the governor said during his appearance at a restaurant in Cape Coral.
DeSantis said Floridians will be free to choose what is best for them and that the state will protect its residents’ right to work, for businesses to operate and for students to attend school in person.
He also said he will be signing an executive order to issue emergency rules for “protecting the rights of parents,” which will allow them to decide whether their children should wear masks in schools.
WATCH BELOW: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ full press conference in Cape Coral:
“There is no way in good conscious that I could bring anybody back into a school environment on the bus, the cafeteria, and not have a mask mandate. That is a moral decision,” Broward School Board Chair Rosalind Osgood said Wednesday.
Osgood said the decision was made due to the liability and responsibility they have as a school board, but she said they would abide by the law if the governor were to issue an executive order banning mask mandates at schools.
“If in the governor’s soul he feels that this is the right thing to do, then he should sign the executive order,” Osgood said.
DeSantis’ decision, which was expected, is not being embraced locally by members of the Broward School Board.
“It is a disappointing decision,” School Board Member Sarah Leonardi said. “I fear that with that decision we will see increases in cases in our schools and our communities.”
Leonardi said she believes it is safety precautions like masking, which kept COVID in check at schools.
According to the governor, Florida was the only large state in the U.S. to offer full in-person learning last school year and said a study from Brown University found no correlation of case rates and mask mandates at schools.
However, critics of that study say it is now outdated and was centered on smaller communities, where schools reopened earlier in the pandemic.
Regardless, DeSantis said it must be up to parents to decide whether their children should wear masks to school.
He said there has been a lot of push from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to mandate that all students and school staff members be masked, but said he believed “that would be a huge mistake” and that the CDC was showing disregard for the physical and mental wellbeing of children.
CDC officials say they support in-person learning and believe “safely returning” to classrooms in the fall is a priority, but they also maintain that wearing masks will help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially for children who are not able to get vaccinated.
“Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained,” the CDC states on its website.
With the executive order, the governor is defying recommendations not just from the CDC, but also from other health experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Science is unequivocal,” infectious disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty said. “The masks reduce transmission.”