War over masks deepens in U.S. South where COVID-19 cases are highest
The superintendent of Florida’s largest school district sought to impose a mask mandate on Wednesday, the latest chapter in the coronavirus political battle in the southern United States where new infections are highest.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho of Miami-Dade County Public Schools sought school board approval at a meeting on Wednesday to require most of the district’s 360,000 students wear face coverings, in defiance of a ban by Governor Ron DeSantis on mask mandates. Students with medical needs would be exempt.
“The conditions before me today, other than the impact to health, do not cause fear in me. For the consequences associated with doing the right thing, whatever that right thing is, I will wear proudly with a badge of honor,” he said at a state Department of Education meeting early on Wednesday. “I’m going to go to my own school board meeting and I’m going to do that which is right, rightful and righteous.”
The governor last month signed an executive order barring local officials from imposing mask mandates. Like some other Republican governors, DeSantis has called mask-wearing a personal choice which for students should be made by parents.
The state Board of Education on Tuesday voted unanimously to punish Broward and Alachua counties for mandating masks in schools in defiance of the governor’s order, local media reported.
They are the first to be punished, although no specific actions have been taken against them, the local media said.
DAILY DEATHS TOP 1,000
On Tuesday, COVID-19 deaths in the United States reached a five-month high, as state and local officials sparred over mask requirements across the South as the highly contagious Delta variant spread infections far and wide.
More than 1,000 people were reported to have died on Tuesday, the most in one day since March, after the virus death toll spiked over the past month to a daily average of 769, according to a Reuters tally https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps.
The spread of the Delta variant has disrupted the new school year in some southern states and pushed new U.S. cases to a six-month high of more than 100,000 a day on average over the past 12 days, according to the tally.
In Tampa, Florida, nearly 5,600 students and over 300 employees of a single school district remained in isolation or quarantine on Wednesday after either catching COVID-19 or potentially being exposed to it.
In Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, the school board planned to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to determine the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus.
SOUTH TOPS IN NEW CASES
Florida had the country’s third largest number of new coronavirus infections last week, while Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott has also been at odds with some local officials over masks, had the 12th, according to a Reuters tally.
The top 10 states with most new cases were all in the South.
Abbott, also a Republican, announced on Tuesday that he had tested positive for COVID-19, despite having been fully vaccinated, but had no symptoms of the illness.
The school district in Paris, Texas, about 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Dallas, took a novel approach in its disagreement with the governor, making face masks part of the dress code for its nearly 4,000 students.
“The Board believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues, and therefore has amended the (Paris Independent School District) dress code to protect our students and employees,” the board said in a statement on Tuesday.
At least two county school districts are locked in a legal battle against Abbott’s order preventing them from imposing mask requirements, and some have defied him outright.
Vaccines protect people from serious illness, hospitalizations and death after contracting the coronavirus, but vaccinated people can still be infected and pass it along, public health officials have said.
On Monday night Abbott spoke to hundreds of people at an indoor Republican Party event in suburban Dallas where few wore masks. On Tuesday, the governor tweeted a photo of himself meeting with guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, brother of the legendary Texas strummer Stevie Ray Vaughan.
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