Mask mandate battle between White House, Florida governor ramps up


MIAMI (NewsNation Now) — Masks have become a political weapon over the course of the pandemic — especially in Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis banned schools from requiring masks, a move President Joe Biden called “bad health policy.” On Wednesday, DeSantis’ name came up again in the White House. 

“Our war is not on DeSantis. It is on the virus,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “Which we are trying to kneecap. And he does not seem to want to participate in that effort to kneecap the virus — hence our concern.”

There has been “an enormous increase” in COVID-19 cases among children in July and August at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronald Ford said.

Most of these children have been treated in the emergency room and sent home, but “those that are admitted are sicker than what we’ve seen before, and many of them are requiring care in our intensive care units,” Ford said.

But DeSantis says the share of pediatric hospitalizations is still between 1.1% and 1.4% in the state, which is how it has behaved throughout the pandemic. On Wednesday, 177 of the 15,071 patients with COVID-19 — about 1.2 % — were children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“There’s been no change in the proportion of pediatric patients who are COVID positive,” he said. “Obviously we have more people that are COVID positive in hospitals than we did six weeks ago, so the raw numbers are increasing for everybody.”

The Biden administration is looking into whether the federal government has the power to intervene in Florida’s mask mandate ban.

“I don’t believe that I do but we’re checking that,” said Biden.

DeSantis didn’t take the threat lightly.

“Obviously, if you are talking about the federal government overruling parents in our communities that would be something we would fight back against,” he said.

But several school districts in Florida are fighting back against the governor. The Broward County School Board, the sixth-largest district in the nation, voted to defy the governor and require masks.

“We were guided by health organizations like the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics,” said Sarah Leonardi of the Broward County School Board.

The state’s response was swift. 

In a letter to Broward school administrators, the education commissioner threatened the department might “withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for the superintendent and all of the members of the school board,” if they don’t comply with the law.

“What motivates me is keeping our students and employees safe,” said Leonardi. “And if I have to forego a paycheck for that, then I will do so.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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