The battle over mask requirements in Florida schools is headed for a new legal phase following an appeal by the Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, of a judge’s ruling that a blanket ban on mask mandates exceeds the state’s authority.
The case heads next to the 15 judges on the 1st district court of appeal in the state capital, Tallahassee.
The issue is whether the state’s Parents Bill of Rights law means parents must decide if their child wears a mask or permits a school board to impose a broad mask requirement.
Under the DeSantis executive order, state education officials have been seeking to penalize defiant school boards by deducting the equivalent of school board members’ monthly salaries from state funding.
As of Friday, 13 districts representing more than half of Florida’s 2.8 million public school students had imposed mask mandates despite the governor’s order that a parental opt-out must be included.
This as August emerged as the deadliest month for Florida since the pandemic began. Although the rate of new infections and hospitalizations is slowing, the state increased its coronavirus death count by 1,338 on Thursday.
Florida has reported a total of 5,721 deaths in August, surpassing the previous monthly high of 5,469 deaths in January, before vaccines were widely available, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Almost 46,000 Floridians have died of Covid-19 since the outbreak hit the US in January 2020.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden blamed the surge of the Delta variant of Covid-19 among those in the US who remain unvaccinated for disappointing August job creation figures.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association reported that more than a fifth of new coronavirus cases are occurring in children.
As of 26 August, nearly 4.8 million children had tested positive for Covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic, the AAP reported.
About 204,000 cases were added the past week, marking the second week with child cases at the level of the winter surge of 2020-21, the academy noted.
“After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over a fivefold increase the past month, rising from about 38,000 cases the week ending July 22 to nearly 204,000 the past week,” the AAP said.
It also noted that since the pandemic began, children represented 14.8% of total cumulated cases but for the week ending 26 August, children were 22.4% of reported weekly Covid-19 cases, while pointing out that “at this time, it appears that severe illness due to Covid-19 is uncommon among children”.
The surge comes as many children are heading back to school in person.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said on Thursday that new research due to be made public on Friday showed hospitalizations in children were four times higher in states with low vaccination rates in the month of August, USA Today reported.
Also, Walensky and Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, are understood to be recommending the White House pull back its stated policy of offering booster vaccinations to the public later this month, the New York Times reported, saying that regulators need more time to gather and examine necessary data, according to unnamed sources.