As virus cases rise in Florida, officials prepare to defy governor’s no-mask mandate

By Azi Paybarah

In Florida, just half of people are vaccinated against the coronavirus, and the delta virus variant is driving a surge that has made the state one of the worst-hit in the nation. Now, as Gov. Ron DeSantis, a rising star in the Republican Party, doubles down on his strategy, several local officials are preparing to defy him.

Florida is straining under the weight of its latest, and largest, virus wave. Forty-three percent of the state’s adult intensive-care beds are filled with coronavirus patients, The Wall Street Journal reported.

On Friday, Florida recorded the highest daily average of new coronavirus cases in the country, with 19,250, according to a New York Times database. At the Impact Church in Jacksonville, six unvaccinated people died in 10 days, a pastor there said on Twitter last week. This week, the church hosted a vaccination event: 269 got the jab, the church said.

Last week in Central Florida, three men — a police officer, a deputy sheriff and a firefighter — died of COVID-19 within three days, NBC reported.

Last month, DeSantis signed an executive order blocking local officials from enacting mask mandates, and is threatening to withhold the salaries of local superintendents and school board members who enact them.

Now, local officials and community leaders are stepping in with mask requirements of their own.

With the school year already underway in some parts of Florida and beginning next week in others, lawsuits have been filed against the governor’s ban and a growing number of school officials are defying the governor and considering mandating masks for students.

On Monday, the superintendent of schools in Leon County announced a mask mandate for students in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. In Alachua County public schools, masks will be required at least for the first two weeks of school. The Duval County School Board voted last week to put a mask mandate in place, but will allow students to opt-out.

The Broward County School District, one of the largest in the state, voted unanimously last month to require its students to wear masks. But in light of the governor’s recent executive order, the district said in a statement that it is “awaiting further guidance before rendering a decision on the mask mandate for the upcoming school year.”

The superintendent of another large school district, Albert Carvalho of Miami-Dade County, told the station he will not let the prospect of having his salary withheld affect whether that district moves forward with a mask mandate. The district requires students to wear masks on buses but has not made a final determination on whether it will require them indoors, a local NBC affiliate reported.

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