Going back to school in Florida is a tense, frightening state of affairs.

As schools opened Tuesday in 45 out of 67 counties, Florida had the second-highest number of children hospitalized for the treatment of COVID-19 in the nation. These innocents don’t know a thing about politics, but are paying the price because adults like Gov. Ron DeSantis have put politics before children’s health.

The highly transmissible and life-threatening delta variant driving the new surge is a game-changer. But DeSantis simply doesn’t care.

On the eve of the first round of school openings — with pediatric hospitals filled with children infected with COVID — instead of acting with urgency to protect kids returning to classrooms, the governor threatened superintendents with withholding their salaries if they don’t comply with his ban on mask mandates.

DeSantis had already threatened school board members approving coronavirus safety plans with the same — and, more devastating for schools, with withdrawing state funds for their districts.

“He can have my salary if it will save a life,” Palm Beach County School Board member Deborah L. Robinson, a retired physician, said Tuesday at a virtual press conference sponsored by the Florida Democratic Party. “I’m not going to have it be on me that we lose one child to the delta variant.”

Advertising

Robinson explained from a medical perspective how high the stakes are and what few tools educators have, under DeSantis’ rules, to keep “devastation from passing through our schools.”

“I’m sick of hearing people say children don’t die of COVID,” Robinson said. “Children can die of COVID. Thankfully, the numbers are not that high, the percentages are low. We know that the older you are, the more underlying diseases you have and the more likely you are to have severe disease. But what we don’t know for certain is what are the long-term consequences to our young people if they get infected.”

Some children infected with COVID suffer from multisystem inflammatory syndrome, “a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Parents need to ask themselves: Are they willing to take medical risks when a little mask can offer protection?

The delta variant spreads more easily than previous ones. With the massive return of students to in-classroom learning, six feet of social distancing will be impossible to maintain. Schools can’t offer the small pods they set up last year with fewer students.

With a more potent, double-mutant variant, the need for masks is crucial. But DeSantis won’t budge, making up excuses for the coronavirus surge and wrongly comparing last school year, when far fewer children attended and so many chose the virtual option, with this one. Duh.

Advertising

DeSantis mandate or not, Florida children should wear masks in school. We’re the COVID epicenter of the nation right now — and most Florida children are unvaccinated.

Why are we even debating masks in school at all, especially for elementary school children who aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine?

Even those who can get the vaccine aren’t doing so.

Only 41% of Florida residents between the eligible ages of 12 and 19 have gotten their vaccines, according to the Florida Department of Health.

We have a problem with both mask- and vaccine-reticence, which often go hand-in-hand with a certain crowd — and that leaves wearing masks as the only safety net for the rest of us.

Florida is second only to Texas in the hospitalization of COVID-infected children, and by scant margins as of this writing.

Advertising

Infection rates among children are higher now than when schools offered the virtual option last year.

An el Nuevo Herald analysis of state-level data confirms that we’re living through the worst spike in new infections since the pandemic began in March 2020. And unlike past surges, when the elderly made up the majority of severe cases, this wave is affecting younger populations too.

How can there even be a political debate about children’s safety?

Your right to send your kids to school unmasked ends when it puts mine at risk. Your right to doing what you want at a public school ends where my right to security begins. Wasn’t that established when Republican President George W. Bush enacted the Patriot Act after 9/11 to increase the government’s powers of surveillance? Didn’t our travel change dramatically on behalf of safety for all?

In this unrelenting pandemic, anxiety, tension and uncertainty are accompanying our children and teachers back to school.

Without a statewide mask mandate for schools from the governor and the Department of Education, his enabler, some parents are confused.

Sponsored

Others aren’t. They’re pretty clear about what they want.

“Our parents, our teachers and our students are scared right now,” said Miami-Dade County School Board Member Lucia Baez-Geller. “With the rising levels of COVID, and particularly the delta variant, I’m getting hundreds of emails, phone calls, text messages from worried parents and teachers begging me to put the mandate of masks in schools.”

In Florida, Miami-Dade’s school system will be the last to open — this year on Aug. 23. Kids in Broward, whose school board voted Tuesday to keep its existing mask mandate in place for the 2021-2022 school year, defying the governor’s orders — Bravo! — return to school Aug. 18.

Miami-Dade school leaders should do likewise and follow the science, not the governor.

Health experts say Florida children should be wearing masks in school.

That’s all the guidance you need to follow, parents.