Medical expert equates schools with unmasked children to ‘toxic swamp of COVID’

Former Duval County Health Department director accuses governor of ‘playing politics’ with children’s lives

A student in a Clay County school wears a face mask. (WJXT)

On the heels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, the former director of the Duval County Health Department took it a step further during an interview Wednesday on The Morning Show, saying there should be a statewide school mask mandate.

“What we do know is that masks work, that masks in particular in schools prevent the spread of COVID,” said Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, who is currently a professor at the UF College of Medicine. “Parents would not let their children swim in a toxic swamp. If they allow their children to go into environments in which there are people who are unmasked -- including schools, including supermarkets, wherever -- they are in fact allowing their children to swim in a toxic swamp of COVID.”


Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, a Professor at the UF College of Medicine and former Director of the Duval County Health Department, joins us to discuss how successful the new CDC recommendations will be.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly declined to implement mask mandates, saying he does not believe they work. During a round table discussion Monday, which was not disclosed to the public ahead of time, DeSantis met with a group of supporters to discuss, and heavily criticize, the idea of wearing face coverings in Florida schools.

After the CDC’s call for universal masking for schools, DeSantis’ office released a statement saying parents should have the right to decide whether their children wear masks at school:

“Governor DeSantis believes that parents know what’s best for their children; therefore, parents in Florida are empowered to make their own choices with regards to masking. Experts have raised legitimate concerns that the risks of masking outweigh the potential benefits for children, because masking children can negatively impact their learning, speech, emotional and social development, and physical health (e.g., infections from bacteria that’s often found on masks, difficulty breathing while exercising in masks, etc.) Fortunately, the data indicate that COVID is not a serious risk to healthy children, which is why schools in most countries were among the first institutions to reopen. At the end of the day, the Governor trusts parents to weigh the risks and benefits and make the best choices for their kids.”

Goldhagen accused DeSantis of playing politics with children’s lives and using them as political pawns.

“Families should not be taking their children into any environment in which there are people who are unmasked, irrespective of their vaccine status,” Goldhagen said.

The CDC’s recommendation for masks in schools came as the CDC also recommended that fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, changing course from its guidance in May that said fully vaccinated people could stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

Dr. Lee Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, tweeted support for the CDC’s updated mask guidance for schools.

On July 19, the AAP issued new COVID-19 guidance for schools that supports students returning to in-person learning and suggests universal masking in schools of everyone over the age of 2.

MORE: What local districts are planning as of now

“The AAP believes that, at this point in the pandemic, given what we know about low rates of in-school transmission when proper prevention measures are used, together with the availability of effective vaccines for those age 12 years and up, that the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in all circumstances,” that guidance states.

Cases of the delta variant are surging with children set to return to school in just weeks.

About the Author:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.