DeSantis on back-to-school: Parents ‘need to have that choice'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During a Wednesday afternoon news conference from the Florida Capitol, Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke about the hot button issue of reopening schools during the fall semester.

A little over a week ago, Richard Corcoran, the state’s education commissioner, issued an order for all schools to reopen for in-person classes during the fall. The order also instructs school districts to follow the advice of state and local health officials as well as executive orders issued by DeSantis.

“I know a lot of parents are have a lot of anxiety about just the situation, generally, and then of course, what’s going to happen with the school year,” DeSantis said during the news conference. “For me, I think one of the core principles is your parents need to have the ability to offer the type of learning that they think is important, if they’re comfortable in a distance learning environment, they obviously need to have that choice.”

In Duval County, the back-to-school plan is said to be a “fluid” situation. Dr. Diana Greene, the school superintendent, has called the COVID-19 era a “fluid” because conditions change rapidly.

Greene told the Duval County School Board on Tuesday morning that her administration’s new plan to reopen schools does not necessarily meet the state’s emergency order to open school buildings for face-to-face instruction all week. Starting Aug. 10, middle and high school students will be in-school some days and at-home learning online the other days.

“I know there’s a lot of different issues relating to how the schools will operate, and obviously we see the epidemic have a different shape in different counties, different regions of the state, but the parental choice, I think, is really the core component,” DeSantis said. “Ultimately it’s the parent that is in the best position to make decisions for their children, and so I reiterated that to the Board of Education and also instructed Commissioner Richard Corcoran on that accordingly.”

COVID-19 testing & symptomatic lanes

Starting Friday, DeSantis said, the state is introducing symptomatic testing lanes at certain test sites, including the site at the Regency Square Mall in Jacksonville.

“Those will be lanes where if you’re symptomatic you go through, you’ll be able to do a self-swab, you’ll be able to send it to a lab that will turn it around in a more timely fashion, and so this way you’re getting the results back, you know, we hope within 72 hours instead of seven days,” DeSantis said.

Wednesday was the last day for testing in Lot J outside TIAA Bank Field.

Long-term care test results

More than 120,000 staff members of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been tested for COVID-19 during the past week under a pair of emergency rules, and about 2.8% have tested positive, the governor said.

“We are actually happy with that,” DeSantis said, noting that is far below the statewide positivity rate.

The governor said the goal is to find asymptomatic staff members and prevent them from infecting residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. While noting the 2.8% positivity rate, DeSantis said there had been a COVID-19 outbreak among staff members in a long-term care facility in “North Central Florida.”

DeSantis did not name the facility but said 50 staff members tested positive.

“But this is kind of the exception, where you have that kind of spread among the staff. But we are finding examples of one or two, sometimes three or four (infected staff).  If you are testing every two weeks like we are, you are going to be able to identify more and more of those before it spreads widely inside the long-term care center. And that really is the name of the game. And that will absolutely, if you can prevent outbreaks there, will absolutely save lives.” 

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew issued a pair of emergency rules mandating that every nursing home and assisted living facility in the state test staff members every two weeks, effective last Thursday. The rules do not apply to long-term care facilities or group homes for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

DeSantis said the state also has 15 nursing homes that have dedicated 1,000 beds for COVID-19 patients who no longer require hospitalization. The governor said another nine nursing facilities are expected to “be on the way very soon,” offering another 600 beds.

“That’s going to be 1,600 beds in various parts of the state, we’ve got a lot of them in Southern Florida, and I think that will be that will be really, really important,” he said.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report

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