Commissioner Fried blasts Gov. DeSantis over mask fight with school boards

The Daily Sun, Oct 7, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic challenger to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, blasted the governor over his school mask policy, and showed data she says supports masks as an effective weapon in fighting COVID-19 in schools.

“Masks are effective and proven to reduce the spread of COVID in schools,” Fried said in a news conference on Zoom.

She criticized DeSantis for refusing to release daily numbers on the virus, particularly where it impacts schools. She said the governor and the Department of Education have been “threatening and bullying” school boards and districts “into submission” across the state for “doing the job the people voted them to do.”

The news conference came hours before the State Board of Education is set to meet and consider punishment for 11 school boards that set student mask mandates to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including Sarasota County.

The other districts targeted for potential penalties are Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach.

Sarasota County implemented a mask mandate in September, but the mandate was lifted four weeks later when the county’s positivity rate for the virus dropped to lower than 8%.

On Tuesday, the Sarasota County School Board repealed its mandate, with Superintendent Brennan Asplen saying it had “done its job.”

The data that Fried released Thursday morning shows “clear evidence that school districts requiring masks resulted in up to seven times lower COVID-19 cases per capita than school districts that did not require masks.”

Fried’s office requested data from the Florida Department of Health on Aug. 12, that included daily cases, deaths, and hospitalizations for every Florida county and every age, as well as ICU capacity.

Since the data was not provided, Fried’s staff compiled its own, using information obtained directly from counties and school districts. According to Fried, the Department of Agriculture’s findings show school districts with mask requirements “enacted at any time” had half the COVID-19 cases as other districts.

Bigger districts that had mask policies in place like Broward, Miami-Dade and Alachua, had three times fewer cases than schools without mask policies, Fried said.

“The five largest school districts had average 0.48 peak cases per capita, while five smallest school districts had 3.51 peak cases per capita,” she said. “I stand with students, parents, teachers, and President Biden in support of our school districts that have taken action to keep kids healthy, keep parents working, and keep communities safe.”

The Florida Department of Education already has already withheld money from two school districtsg at the direction of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

On Aug. 30, the department began withholding funding for Alachua and Broward counties in amounts equal to the monthly salaries of school-board members who voted for mask mandates.

The state board meeting Thursday will focus, at least in part, on a revamped Department of Health rule signed by Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo on Sept. 22. That rule came after some districts have required students to wear masks, with exceptions only for medical reasons.

The rule, which replaced a version issued Aug. 6, seeks to give parents control over whether students wear masks, regardless of whether doctors sign off. The new rule also allows parental control over whether asymptomatic students quarantine following exposure to people with COVID-19.

Information from The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

 Image Credits: WUSF News