Speed Reads

Florida

The White House is considering neutering Florida Gov. DeSantis' ban on school mask requirements

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki commended Broward County Public Schools and other Florida school districts  Tuesday for showing "the courage and the boldness" to step up and "do the right thing to protect students and keep schools safe and open" by requiring everyone to mask up, in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) executive order barring mask mandates at public schools.

DeSantis is threatening to withhold the salaries of school superintendents and board members who institute mask requirements in their districts, and Psaki said "we're looking into what's possible" to mitigate those threats, including "paying for salaries" with unused federal stimulus funds. The Education Department is leading the discussions on ways the U.S. government can "support districts and schools as they try to follow the science," she said. 

President Biden told reporters Tuesday he finds it "totally counterintuitive and frankly disingenuous" for governors in COVID-19 hot spots to say the government doesn't have the authority to require masks but can prevent schools from requiring them, but he isn't sure he has the authority to intervene. "We're checking that," he said. 

DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske told The Washington Post it's "surprising that the White House would rather spend money for the salaries of bureaucratic superintendents and elected politicians, who don't believe that parents have a right to choose what's best for their children, than on Florida's students." After Biden urged the Texas and Florida governors to either "help" quash the pandemic or "get out of the way," DeSantis hit back, claiming Biden's border policies have allowed illegal immigrants to spread COVID-19 in the U.S., "a claim for which there is no evidence," the Post notes.

Florida's raging COVID-19 outbreak is due to several factors, including the Delta variant's contagion level, a lower-than-average vaccination rate, and "DeSantis' management of the pandemic," Politico's Florida reporter Marc Caputo writes. But "Florida also spent an additional $25 million from the federal government to lure people to the state," and they came. "About 83 percent of hospital beds statewide are occupied," Caputo reports. "Florida hotels, meanwhile, have been 75 percent full or more," and not necessarily with vaccine- and mask-positive tourists. 

"It's important to remember that if you give a message to people that we don't care about the virus here, you'll attract more people who have that mindset," Florida International University epidemiologist Aileen Marty tells Politico.