ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Florida’s governor again downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday, warning instead about rising rates of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
In an appearance Wednesday morning at St. Petersburg’s Lakewood Elementary School, Gov. Ron DeSantis touted his education department, holding up the Pinellas County school for its achievement in improving its grade from an F-rating to an A-rating in one testing cycle.
“In fact, the school hadn’t scored better than a ‘D’ since 2013, “ DeSantis said. “So this type of turnaround is very rare, but it’s a testament to the hard work of everybody involved -- the teachers, the administrators, the parents and students at Lakewood Elementary.”
DeSantis used the event to hand out $1,000 checks to several of the school’s leadership and staff -- incentive payments that were approved for approximately 175,000 teachers and around 3,600 principals across the state.
“The bonuses were just because of how challenging last year was,” DeSantis said. “We thought it was important that we show a token of appreciation and the Legislature was able to come through and do it, so we’re happy to be able to hand out some checks today.”
The governor was joined by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Mike Grego.
After his remarks, DeSantis fielded questions from reporters, the first of which focused on his administration’s clashing with the mainstream medical community in his executive order banning face mask mandates in school districts.
“Our view is, of course, that we believe this is a decision for the parent to make just given the uncertainty about what it means, particularly for a lot of the young kids,” DeSantis said. “I know we have I think two who are not providing the parents with the rights, but obviously we believe that the parent rather than the government should ultimately be able to make that decision. I’m not sure that they have the wherewithal.”
The Republican leader went on to say that school districts are doing the right thing in sending a child home if they test positive for COVID-19 or are showing symptoms of viral infection, but he expressed disapproval of overreaction in contact tracing.
“I don’t think we want them sending home students who maybe just had a glancing contact in the hallway with somebody,” DeSantis said. “We don’t think that that’s the way to go, but we trust the school districts to basically follow what they’ve been doing.”
The governor ended his appearance downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic, asserting that there has not been “a significant increase in the proportion of pediatric patients who are COVID positive,” under the aggressive delta variant.
“COVID, I view, is a very minor risk,” the governor said of the virus’s effect on children. “RSV is more or more serious. That is something that I would say, just as a parent of young kids, that’s a much more significant risk than COVID has proven to be.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the delta variant is nearly twice as contagious as previous variants and that unvaccinated people, including the ineligible population under the age of 12, are the greatest concern.