Florida Governor Ron DeSantis with Donald Trump at a Trump rally in 2018 (Joe Raedle/Getty)
UPDATE, OCT 9
: The Florida Board of Education sanctions eight local school districts over their mask mandates to curb Coronavirus.
The Board voted unananimously on Thursday after the eight districts, among the largest in the state, defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’s opposition to masks in schools buildings. The districts are in Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach Counties.
The cuts could be equal to school board members’ salaries unless the districts give way within 48 hours.
Superintendents from the eight districts said mask policies have been effective at curbing the spread of the virus. Alberto Carvalho of Miami-Dade County Public Schools noted:
There have been no major outbreaks in our schools and student cases have been declining since peaking in early September, a trend we expect to continue due to our layered mitigation approach.
— Alberto M. Carvalho (@MiamiSup) October 7, 2021
However, the Board of Education insisted that the districts had “willingly and knowingly violated the rights of students and parents by denying them the option to make personal and private health care and educational decisions for their children”.
Coronavirus cases in Florida surged this summer, with the state accounting for 20% of new infections in the US. The 7-day average of daily cases peaked at 24,720 on August 17.
The average is still 3,596, higher than the rate on July 12, with 195 deaths per day.
Florida is third in the US in cases and deaths, behind California and Texas, with 3,645,290 confirmed infections and 56,667 fatalities.
UPDATE, SEPT 14:
In his latest challenge to measures to contain Coronavirus, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is threatening to fine cities and counties thousands of dollars over vaccine requirements for employees.
DeSantis portrayed his threat as defense of those who refuse vaccinations: “We cannot allow these people being cast aside and their jobs being destroyed. This is not something that should be coerced on people.”
Three Florida cities and counties — including the large Orange County in the center of the state — have introduced requirements for workers to be vaccinated or tested. Several local officials said on Monday that they will resist DeSantis’s threat.
DeSantis, who is considering a Presidential run in 2024, used Monday’s announcement as a campaign rally. He assailed President Joe Biden for being “arrogant” and “dismissive” with the introduction of vaccine mandates for Federal workers and contractors, and the encouragement of states and private businesses to do likewise.
Earlier in the pandemic, DeSantis supported vaccines, especially for Florida’s elderly. However, at Monday’s press conference he stood with people opposed to the vaccine, including a Gainesville worker who claimed inoculations alter genes.
UPDATE, SEPT 11:
A Florida appeals court has reinstated Gov. Ron DeSantis’s ban on mask mandates in public schools.
The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee overturned the ruling of Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper that allowed school districts to implement rules to contain Coronavirus with masks.
A lawsuit by parents is challenging the districts.
Meanwhile, the US Education Department said its Office for Civil Rights is investigating if the DeSantis Administration is violating the rights of students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from Coronavirus.
The Department is also carrying out inquiries in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.
Florida’s 7-day average for Coronavirus deaths and cases continues to be the highest in the US.
The average for deaths is 350, up from 15 on July 7. The average of cases is 14,321, compared to 1,493 on July 6.
UPDATE, AUG 31:
The Florida Department of Education has withheld funds from two school districts requiring masks in classrooms this autumn.
Florida’s second-largest district, Broward County, and Alachua County are being punished over the containment measure, as the state leads the US in Coronavirus hospitalizations.
The extent of the withheld funding is not clear. The Board of Education had said that it would impose a cut equivalent to the salaries of school board members.
The Biden Administration has said federal funds, from March’s American Rescue Plan, may be used to cover any cut.
Broward County officials said in a statement that they will continue the mask requirement.
Florida’s 7-day average for hospitalizations is 15,788, the highest during the pandemic.
The federal Department of Education said on Monday that it has launched investigations into five states — Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah — over prohibitions on mask mandates in schools.
The notice said the Office for Civil Rights is determining whether the prohibitions are restricting access for students who are protected from discrimination over their disabilities.
UPDATE, AUG 28:
A Florida judge has blocked the effort by Gov. Ron DeSantis to halt mask mandates in schools amid the state’s record Coronavirus surge.
Judge John Cooper of the 2nd Judicial Circuit supported the argument of parents that Florida’s Constitution requires the safety and security of their children. Cooper rejected the contention of DeSantis’s lawyers that a state law, enacted earlier this year, gave parents the right to decide if their child should wear a mask.
“I’m a parent — parents’ rights are very important,” Cooper said. “But they’re not without some reasonable limitation, depending upon safety, reasonableness and a compelling state need.”
Judge Cooper also granted an injunction against the Florida Department of Education from punishing local school boards by withholding funding.
The Department of Education said it will appeal.
UPDATE, 0830 GMT:
Defying the Biden Administration and medical experts, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has reissued his ban on Coronavirus vaccine mandates.
The Biden Administration called for the mandates after the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine earlier this week. The Pentagon, some state and local authorities, and private businesses announced the measures.
Abbott, who tested positive for Coronavirus last week, said the vaccine meant he had a “brief and mild” infection.
But his executive order barred any mandates regardless of approval status, with exceptions only for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Abbott also asked a special session of the Texas Legislature to consider action over whether state or local entities can require the vaccines.
UPDATE, AUG 26:
Amid Gov. Ron DeSantis’s removal of containment measures, Florida has set records for Coronavirus deaths and cases.
The record 7-day average for daily deaths has reached 227, the highest in the US by far. The 7-day average of daily confirmed cases is 23,314, 30% higher than the mark in January.
Hospitalizations have almost tripled in the past month to more than 17,200, pushing facilities and staffs to breaking point. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has asked residents to ration water, conserving liquid oxygen needed to purify drinking water and to treat Covid-19 patients.
Gov. DeSantis is threatening school districts with financial penalties if they have mask mandates. Several have defied him, including Broward County, the second-largest in the state.
About 52% of Florida residents are fully vaccinated, but some counties are at less than 30%.
On Monday, doctors and hospital employees in Palm Beach County appealed to the unvaccinated.
Dr. Rupesh Dharia explained, “We are exhausted. Our patience and resources are running low.”
Doctors said that with the spread of the Delta variant, patients are younger, especially those from 40 to 59, and with fewer other health issues.
More than 90% of recent victims have been unvaccinated, including fatalities among those from their 20s to their 40s.
The 7-day average for daily US deaths escalated to 1,165 on Wednesday, a 111% increase in two weeks. The 7-day average for cases is 152,341, up 23%.
On Monday, hospitalizations across the US topped 100,000 for the first time since January.
UPDATE, 0915 GMT:
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has struck a defiant pose over a local order that masks are worn in Dallas schools, county buildings, and businesses.
“No governmental entity can require or mandate the wearing of masks,” Abbott insisted. “The path forward relies on personal responsibility — not government mandates.”
Judge Clay Jenkins issued the Dallas mandate after a district judge’s temporary restraining order on the enforcement of Abbott’s mask ban. Jenkins explained:
Your personal freedom is important to me and to you, but your personal freedom doesn’t come to harming your neighbors. I’m hopeful that we will turn the tide somewhat with these orders….
This is all of us, we are all team public health, and the enemy is the virus. And right now the enemy is winning.
Many school districts have followed Dallas. Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, will require masks in government buildings and schools.
Texas’s 7-day average of daily cases reached 14,972 on Thursday, compared to 1,252 on June 29. There were 139 deaths yesterday, taking the 7-day average to 78, compared to 20 on July 11.
UPDATE, AUG 13:
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has backed away from a threat to withhold the salaries of school officials if they do not implement his rule against masks in the Coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis stepped down after legal opinions that the salaries of salaries of school board members and other officials cannot be withheld. The Governor could still impose hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines against school districts.
Florida’s 7-day average of daily cases reached 21,244, compared to 1,171 on June 20.
Officials reported 357 deaths on Thursday, raising the 7-day average to 361, compared to only 15 on July 7.
UPDATE, AUG 8:
Authorities in Austin, Texas have warned residents, “The Covid-19 situation is dire. Healthcare facilities are open but resources are limited due to a surge in cases.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, like Florida counterpart Ron DeSantis, has stripped away containment measures despite the spread of the Delta variant. President Biden called on both men last week to “get out of the way” of people “trying to do the right thing”.
Bryce Bencivengo, a spokesman for Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said more than 100 new Coronavirus patients were admitted on Friday. Covid-19 sufferers occupy more than 180 intensive care unit beds, and 102 are on ventilators.
“We are in the single digits of I.C.U. beds available,” Bencivengo said.
Daily cases in Texas have risen from a 7-day average of 1,217 on May 31 to 11,147 on August 6. Daily deaths have doubled to 55 over the past 14 days.
The US 7-day average for daily cases is now 108,468, compared to 12,367 on June 7. The 7-day average for daily deaths is 497, up from 188 on July 6.
More than 44,000 Americans are hospitalized, up 30% in a week and almost four times higher than in June.
UPDATE, AUG 7:
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continues his campaign against masks in schools, despite the Coronavirus surge in Florida.
Defying a legal challenge from parents, the Health Department adopted an emergency rule permitting school districts to circumvent mask requirements for students. The Board of Education approved vouchers for parents to send their children to private schools or a school district in another county to avoid masks.
On Friday, Florida reported more than 22,000 new infections, its highest daily total of the pandemic.
The state has recorded 2,768,985 cases, ranking third in the US. Its death toll of 39,695 is fourth behind California, New York, and Texas.
But the Board of Education threatened punishment for any schools requiring masks.
“If we see a school district who is either unwilling or unable to comply with the law, then we the state board, we have certain authority of either withholding state funds or other tools in our toolbox,” said Board vice chair Ben Gibson.
UPDATE, AUG 4:
President Joe Biden has told Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, opponents of Coronavirus containment measures, to “get out of the way” of people “trying to do the right thing”.
Some state officials are passing laws … that forbid people from doing the right thing. I say to the governors, please help. If you’re not going to help, get out of the way of the people that are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.
Florida has had up to 20% of the new US cases amid the surge of the Delta variant over the past month, but DeSantis — a Trumpist with ambitions to run for President in 2024 — has loudly denounced efforts for the wearing of masks, limits on crowded gatherings, and confirmations of vaccinations. He has prevented cities and school districts from implementing measures.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services reported more than 11,500 hospitalizations in Florida. Since last weekend, there have been more than 50,000 infections and 100 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But DeSantis accused the media of “hysteria” on Tuesday, as he claimed that the situation in Florida was not as bad as in 2020: “At the end of the day would I rather have 5,000 cases among 20 year olds or 500 cases among seniors? I would rather have the younger.”
Hospitals are limiting visits and canceling elective procedures amid the surge, but DeSantis insisted, “Our hospitals are open.”
Florida has officially reported 2,634,234 cases, third-highest in the US. Its official toll of 39,079 deaths is fourth-highest, behind California, New York, and Texas.
UPDATE, AUG 2:
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top Coronavirus expert, warned on Sunday that the Coronavirus surge in the US will continue through the summer, amid the refusal of vaccinations by many Americans.
Things are going to get worse if you look at the acceleration of the number of cases, the seven-day average has gone up substantially….
We’re looking not I believe to lockdown, but we’re looking to some pain and suffering in the future because we’re seeing the cases go up, which is the reason why we keep saying over and over again, the solution to this is get vaccinated and this would not be happening.
However, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins noted that vaccination rates have risen in the past week, particularly in states like Alabama, Louisiana, and Missouri where refusals have been high.
“The silver lining of this is that people are waking up to this and this may be a tipping point for those who have been hesitant,” Collins said.
Fauci responded to Republican governors who are opposing containment measures, including the wearing of mask in indoor spaces:
I respectfully disagree with them….Although you want to respect a person’s individual right…we are, in fact, in a very serious public health challenge here with a pandemic, with a virus that has an extraordinary capability of spreading rapidly and efficiently from person to person.
So a person’s individual decision to not wear a mask not only impacts them….You very well may infect another person who may be vulnerable, who may get seriously ill. So in essence, you are encroaching on their individual rights because you’re making them vulnerable.
ORIGINAL ENTRY, JULY 30:
President Joe Biden announces requirements for federal civilian workers to be vaccinated.
The Pentagon later said that military personnel must also be vaccinated or follow regular testing, social distancing, a mask mandate, and limits on official travel.
Agencies will explore how all federal contractors, even those working for private businesses out of their offices, may have to be vaccinated if they work with the federal government.
Biden also announced incentives for vaccinations, including paid leave for the shots and reimbursement for employers. He urged local and state governments to offer $100 to anyone willing to receive the vaccine.
This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. People are dying and will die who don’t have to die. If you’re out there unvaccinated, you don’t have to die. Read the news.
Only 57.7% of adult Americans are fully vaccinated.
Amid the Delta variant and the unvaccinated — up to 2/3 of adults in some states — the 7-day average of cases has climbed for almost two months. On Thursday, it was 71,231, compared to 11,882 on June 27.
There were another 383 deaths, bringing the toll for the pandemic to 612,120. Confirmed cases are now more than 34.9 million.
CDC: Delta Variant “As Contagious As Chicken Pox”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has assessed that the Delta variant is far more contagious and more transmissible, even by the vaccinated, than the original Covid-19 and other variants.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday that vaccinated people carry just as much virus as the unvaccinated and may spread it as readily. The CDC’s internal presentation confirms the statement with a broader view.
The Delta variant is as contagious as chicken pox, and is more transmissible than MERS, SARS, Ebola, the common cold, the seasonal flu, and smallpox.
The presentation said the CDC must “acknowledge the war has changed”.
The CDC’s revised guidelines on Tuesday, calling for masking in some indoor spaces, are based on the assessment.
However, the presentation goes farther: “Given higher transmissibility and current vaccine coverage, universal masking is essential.”
The document cites data from multiple studies, including analysis of an outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts after July 4 celebrations. As of Thursday, there were 882 infected adults, 74% of whom are vaccinated.
CDC Director Walensky briefed members of Congress on Thursday, and the CDC document will be released on Friday.