TALLAHASSEE — More than 800 doctors across Florida today signed a letter, organized by the Committee to Protect Health Care, calling on Gov. Rick DeSantis to repeal his executive order prohibiting local school districts from requiring safeguards against COVID-19 such as mask wearing.
Delivered to DeSantis today, the letter from physicians demands the governor:
Repeal his reckless order and allow and encourage local school districts to implement safeguards that can minimize COVID-19 spread such as mask wearing
Resume reporting COVID-19 daily data in full
Do more to get vaccinations in people’s arms
“Gov. Ron DeSantis is willfully exposing children and their families to COVID-19 infection and sickness, and as physicians, we are united in expressing our anger and frustration at his mismanagement of Florida’s pandemic response,” said Dr. Mona Mangat, an immunologist in St. Petersburg and Board Member for the Committee to Protect Health Care. “Hundreds of physicians and health professionals are asking Gov. DeSantis to stop doing things that actively endanger people and put children’s lives at risk. We see every day how COVID-19 sickens Floridians young and old, leaves children with long-term damage to their health, and unfortunately, even kills seemingly healthy young Floridians. What can help Florida stay safer against this deadly pandemic is to wear masks and get vaccinated.”
In July, DeSantis signed an order that prohibits local school districts from implementing COVID-19 safeguards such as requiring masks, and cutting funds for those that do. DeSantis also prohibits vaccination requirements in schools, which began the 2021-2022 year last week.
This week, data shows Florida with the nation’s highest number of children hospitalized for COVID-19, at more than 230. Hospitals are overwhelmed and have requested critical supplies such as ventilators from the federal government. More than 90 percent of ICU beds across Florida are now occupied, with about half of them by COVID-19 patients. Meanwhile, 70 percent of hospitals report they will likely face staffing shortages by next week. Florida continues to see the nation’s highest rate of children hospitalized with COVID-19, at 8.1 per 100,000 residents. In the past week alone, more than 340 Florida children younger than 17 have been hospitalized for COVID-19 — the most of any state.
“Florida is in the middle of a five-alarm fire and our letter is a red alert for Gov. Ron DeSantis to wake up and repeal his executive order,” said Dr. Bernard Ashby, a cardiologist in Miami and Florida State Lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care. “As physicians, we see every day the death and suffering that Gov. DeSantis has allowed to burn through Florida, even as he knows that masks and vaccinations can slow COVID-19 infections and save lives. Instead, he is allowing COVID-19 to spread unchecked in communities across Florida, and robbing every Floridian of the freedom to be safe and healthy. Unless he repeals his order and allows local schools to implement safety measures such as masks and vaccines, Gov. DeSantis will only prolong Florida’s suffering and sickness.”
Signers of the letter are included here.
The full text is included below:
Let’s work together to protect Florida children
Physicians across Florida are concerned about Florida’s children and their risk of COVID-19 infections. As the virus burns through Florida, health care providers feel we are fighting this fire without any leadership from Gov. Ron DeSantis. Blocking communities from making local decisions to protect themselves with his top-down, one-size-fits-all edict will only make matters worse.
His executive order prohibiting local school districts from implementing COVID-19 safeguards exposes every child to a virus that is deadlier than the flu, as contagious as smallpox and preventable with two basic mitigation measures: Mask use and vaccinations. Gov. DeSantis has effectively outlawed the former, and all but ignored the latter. With schools resuming and children returning to classrooms, Gov. DeSantis’ anti-safety strategy puts people at risk, including children.
This past week, COVID-19 has infected more than 19,000 Floridians every day, the worst weekly infection rate since the pandemic began, and hospitalized an average of 1,800 Floridians daily. In the last week of July, at least 35 children were hospitalized every day for COVID-19 in Florida, a number that is very likely an undercount since Gov. DeSantis stopped sharing COVID-19 statistics.
Fewer than half of eligible Floridians are fully vaccinated. At the same time, COVID-19 vaccinations are authorized for use only in people ages 12 and older — meaning 120,000 pre-K- to fifth-graders in the Tampa Bay area can’t be vaccinated.
To protect the health of vulnerable Floridians, we are calling on Gov. DeSantis to do three things immediately.
One, Gov. DeSantis must repeal his reckless executive order and allow and encourage local school districts to implement safeguards that can minimize COVID-19 spread such as mask-wearing. Two, his administration must resume reporting COVID-19 daily data in full. And three, Gov. DeSantis must do much more to get vaccinations in people’s arms.
Gov. DeSantis should strongly encourage every eligible Floridian to get vaccinated and make vaccinations easier, including in local schools.
Shots in arms are only part of an effective safety strategy. For children ineligible for a vaccine, the only protection they have against COVID-19 is for them to wear a mask, and for those around them to do the same. As physicians, we agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that all schools have students, staff and teachers wear masks, which scientific evidence shows reduces COVID-19 spread.
What’s heartbreaking and infuriating for us as doctors is watching children needlessly suffer while Gov. DeSantis rejects simple protections such as masks and vaccinations.
Asking local schools and jurisdictions to look the other way while COVID-19 tears through our communities, or lose funding if they implement safeguards, won’t protect kids. Waving the flag of personal choice, as Gov. DeSantis does, even as those choices endanger the lives of others only robs millions of Floridians of the freedom to eat out, be with their loved ones and, yes, learn in schools safely.
Enough is enough. Florida needs to mask up, get vaccinated, and have a governor willing to lead.
About the Committee to Protect Health Care
The Committee to Protect Health Care, formerly known as the Committee to Protect Medicare, is a national mobilization of doctors, health care professionals, and advocates who are building a pro-patient health care majority in Congress and in states so that we can live in an America where everyone has the health care they need to thrive. To learn more: www.committeetoprotect.org