Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida won’t implement mask mandates on public school children amid the COVID-19 pandemic, coming after federal health officials have suggested that unvaccinated kids and school staff should wear masks while in class.
“There’s been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level, imposing compulsory masks on kids,” DeSantis said during a bill signing event in Fort Pierce on Thursday. “We’re not doing that in Florida, OK? We need our kids to breathe.”
“Parents obviously can equip their kids to go to school however they want, but there shouldn’t be any coercive mandates on our schools,” he said, adding that masks are “terribly” uncomfortable for kids.
Previously, a Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) study published in April found that children are at a low risk of developing COVID-19 and also don’t play a significant role in the spread of the virus. A study in March from the CDC found there were more virus-related illnesses in Florida school districts that didn’t implement mask-wearing, although the study found that at the time the instances of school-related COVID-19 cases were small statewide.
DeSantis said he and Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Republican, would back a special legislative session if the federal government mandates masks in schools instead of merely issuing guidance. Instead of wearing masks and lockdowns, DeSantis has urged Floridians to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He said Florida districts would keep mask wearing as optional.
“As of right now, all the school districts are going in that direction. But there is going to be, it looks like, a campaign from Washington to try to change that. I’ve talked to Chris Sprowls, if we need to bring (lawmakers) back in to be able to do something from the legislative perspective, he’s all in,” the governor said.
But there may not ever be a federal mandate for children having to wear masks in school. President Joe Biden on Wednesday said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would likely recommend and not force children younger than 12—the cutoff age for COVID-19 vaccines—to wear masks.