Quick: You’re the governor of a state where COVID-19 is literally out of control, reportedly accounting for about 20% of all new infections in the country. As one doctor recently explained, if your state was a country, the U.S. would probably impose a travel ban on people visiting from it. Not only are things really, really bad across the board, but when it comes to children, your state currently holds the record for the most young people admitted to the hospital in the past week. Do you (a) start taking this thing seriously, by imposing public health measures known to stop the spread of the virus (b) think of the children, and follow other states in requiring masks in the fall or (c) at the very least allow individual schools to make their own decisions on the issue of masks, including letting them decide they’re necessary? If you’re Florida governor Ron DeSantis, the answer is a resounding “none of the above” and an added note to “screw the kids.”
On Monday, DeSantis’s office threatened to withhold the pay of superintendents and school board members who ignore the governor’s executive order banning mask mandates for schools. Just so it’s clear, that means if a school district looks at the (overwhelming) data and decides that it would like to protect its community—from getting sick and potentially *dying—*DeSantis will block them from getting paid to score political points with conservatives. Usually, school districts get in serious trouble if they’re caught putting kids in harm’s way, but in this scenario, DeSantis is threatening to punish anyone caught protecting kids (and teachers) from catching a highly contagious disease. Which, in the words of health experts, is fucking insane, even for Florida.
The warning comes as infections in the Sunshine State have increased 51% in the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University; Florida reported 134,506 new COVID-19 cases from July 30 to August 5, more than any other seven-day period. Meanwhile, the delta variant has been more harmful to children than the original strain, with 4,615 Florida children hospitalized last week, Rolling Stone noted. “Our pediatricians, the nursing, the staff are exhausted, and the children are suffering, and it is absolutely devastating,” Aileen Marty, M.D., an infectious disease expert at Florida International University, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 on Friday night. “Our children are very much affected. We’ve never seen numbers like this before.”
“The viral load in Florida is so high right now, there are really only two places on the planet where it’s higher—one is Louisiana and the other is Botswana,” Jonathan Reiner, M.D., a professor at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, told CNN on Sunday. “It’s so high in Florida that I think if Florida were another country, we would have to consider banning travel from Florida to the United States.”
DeSantis’s latest announcement comes as Florida and Texas appear to be duking it out to see who can infect more children. As my colleague Eric Lutz noted on Friday, Texas recently “released a new guidance that somehow makes DeSantis’s effort[s]…seem smart.” Under new recommendations from the Texas Education Agency, Texas schools will not be required to conduct contract tracing and will not need to let parents know if a student has tested positive for the virus. If a child is a close contact of an infected student, the new guidance says they can still go to school. To borrow Reiner’s metaphor re Florida being a country the U.S. would ban travel from, if Florida and Texas were parents, we’d all be calling social services on them.
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Things could be going significantly better for Rudy Giuliani