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Florida Roundup

Masking Debate Continues About Fla. Schools; Hospitals Exceed Capacity

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DAVE BARFIELD
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LONELY FOX PHOTOGRAPHY / VIA TALLAHASSEE MEMORIAL HEALTHCARE
As more coronavirus patients need hospital care, it's stretching resources thin. COVID-19 patients require more care than a typical hospital patient and there aren't enough nurses to do around, that's led TMH officials to get creative with staffing.

This week, four Florida school districts defied, to varying degrees, an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis that bans mask mandates. Duval, Alachua, Leon and Broward counties' school boards and superintendents announced or reaffirmed plans to require masks for students when classes begin (although Duval's has an opt-out clause for parents, in line with the governor's order). 

The governor said he wants children to “breathe free” and threatened to defund districts that require students to wear masks. 

Today, the state’s Board of Education is holding an emergency meeting to determine, in part, whether the public school students who don't want to wear masks can use state vouchers through the Hope Scholarship program to transfer to private schools. The vouchers have so far been limited to students experiencing bullying, harassment, or violent acts. 

The Florida Department of Education on Friday said mandatory mask policies for students qualify as "COVID-19 harassment."

Elizabeth Andersen, chair of the Duval County School Board, and Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, spoke with us about their districts’ masking policies.

We were also joined by State Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican from Brevard County, who is the chair of the Florida House PreK -12 Appropriations Subcommittee. Although he almost died from COVID-19 last summer,  he opposes mask mandates. Rep. Fine says he is focusing his efforts on promoting vaccines and believes mandating masks infringes on parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit.

Mark Richard, the attorney for the state's largest teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, gave us his take on the expansion of the Hope Scholarship program and potential legal challenges from the state in response to schools’ mask policies.

Florida Hospitals Exceed Capacity

The number of Floridians hospitalized with COVID-19 approaches 13,000. Several days in a row this week, the number hit a new record high. More than 9 out of 10 of those hospitalized are unvaccinated.

Mary Mayhew, the Florida Hospital Association president & CEO, spoke with us about the challenges hospitals face. She said, although many don't take seriously the threat COVID poses to children, hospital workers are seeing more and more how deadly it can be. 

Infectious disease expert at Florida International University Dr. Aileen Marty told us about her stance on mask-wearing for Florida kids and weighed in on the rise in pediatric hospitalizations.

Florida Roundup Associate Producer Katherine Hobbs can be reached at khobbs@wjct.org or on Twitter at @KatherineGHobbs.