Florida Surgeon General: Data Supporting School Mask Mandates ‘Very Weak,’ Masking Is ‘Parent’s Decision’

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Florida’s new surgeon general stated that the evidence supporting mask mandates in schools is “very weak” during a Wednesday press conference.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who was tapped for the position in September, said that data acquired so far on school mask mandates does not support such policies, despite the claims of other public health leaders. Ladapo also said that whether or not to mask a child should be a parent’s, and only the parent’s, decision.

“Step back for a moment from what you hear constantly on TV, and just very briefly in terms of the data that supports mask use for kids and mandates for mask use for kids, it is very weak and that’s a fact,” Ladapo said at press conference alongside Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in Brevard County.

“So there is a substantial gap between the quality of the data out there, which shouldn’t surprise you, right? We haven’t been doing this very long. But there is a substantial gap between the quality of the data out there supporting masks in kids yielding any benefit for kids whatsoever – factual – and what we’re hearing from our public health leadership in other states and nationally,” he continued.

In September, the Florida Department of Health issued an emergency rule banning school boards in the state from implementing mask mandates for students. The state has gone after a number of schools in counties across the state that have attempted to buck the mandate, threatening and taking legal action or moving to strip violative school officials of pay.

“Putting a mask on the face of your child, that’s a parent’s decision. That’s not a school’s decision, it’s not a school board’s decision, it’s not a governor’s decision. It’s no one else’s decision except for the parent, and parents are being placed in these impossible situations related to the health of their children,” Ladapo said.

Ladapo’s guidance breaks sharply with federal recommendations on school masking and COVID policies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students should be masked during school regardless of vaccination status and be spaced at least three feet apart. The CDC website says in part:

Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

In addition to universal indoor masking, CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as screening testing. …

Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time. Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies (e.g., using multiple prevention strategies together consistently) to protect students, teachers, staff, visitors, and other members of their households and support in-person learning.

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