TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday changed its guidance on wearing face coverings in schools and is now recommending universal masking when students and teachers return to class next month.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has been pushing back against the idea -- threatening to call a special session of the legislature to pass a law banning a mask requirement in schools -- and held a closed-to-media roundtable on the subject Monday.
After Tuesday’s CDC call for universal masking, DeSantis’ office released a statement saying parents should have the right to decide whether their children wear masks at school.
Monday’s roundtable of doctors invited by DeSantis blamed masking children for higher rates of mental illness and cast doubt on their efficacy.
“This should absolutely not be imposed. It should not be mandated,” DeSantis said the event.
Similar events in the past have been open to the media and broadcast by The Florida Channel, a state-funded service that covers dozens of government meetings and news conferences.
The governor’s office didn’t provide notice to the media of the roundtable until six hours after it had ended, but a recording shows the discussion focused on the same information that resulted in a previous roundtable being removed from YouTube in April for providing misinformation.
“We in Florida, to this point, our school districts have proposed mask-optional (policies),” DeSantis said in a video of the roundtable published on Tuesday. “But I think our fear is that, seeing some of those rumblings, that there’d be an attempt from the federal level or even some of these organizations to try to push for mandatory masking of school children.”
One of the participants was Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University whom the governor called on last year to support his position on keeping schools open for in-person instruction during the pandemic.
“The correlational evidence I think is mixed and there’s literally no randomized evidence whatsoever for these masks in schools,” Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University said at Monday’s event.
Los Angeles child psychologist Dr. Mark McDonald blamed masks in part for a 300% to 400% increase in depression and anxiety in children.
“Mental illness is a catastrophe in this country, primarily due to lockdowns in children, but the masks is not helping. The masks are nothing more than a symbol of fear and anxiety,” McDonald said.
Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease at the Tufts University School of Medicine, Dr. H. Cody Meissner, also called last week’s call by the American Academy of Pediatrics for universal masking “virtue signaling,”
“People like to say they’re basing their decisions on science, but they’re not. They’re basing their recommendations on emotion,” Meissner said.
Democratic Commissioner of Agriculture and gubernatorial hopeful Nikki Fried called the roundtable “one-sided.”
“And look, if he’s not going to come in and he’s not going to have a mask mandate for our state, at least give people the tools to make proper decisions,” Fried said.
Fried also criticized the lack of transparency around the discussion and called on the governor to return to daily reporting of COVID data.
Asked why the event was closed to the public and the media, DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw said: “We recorded the entire roundtable discussion to post on Rumble so it’s accessible to media and the general public. We generally use Rumble for public videos these days, after experiencing censorship from YouTube several months ago.”