Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is floating the idea of reopening public schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing the falsehood that it doesn’t threaten young people.
DeSantis, who delayed imposing a statewide stay-at-home order and included loopholes that allow many businesses and churches to remain open, told an education roundtable with teachers, parents and government officials that he likes the idea of sending students back to classes before the school year ends in May. He made the remarks on Thursday, when Florida had its highest daily number of fatalities from COVID-19.
“We’re going to look at the evidence and make a decision,” DeSantis said. “If it’s safe, we want kids to be in school … even if it’s for a couple of weeks.”
He offered a false statistic to back up the idea.
“This particular pandemic is one where, I don’t think nationwide there’s been a single fatality under 25. For whatever reason it just doesn’t seem to threaten, you know, kids.”
That is incorrect. While the disease does pose a bigger threat to other age groups, at least eight young people ― one baby, one person aged 1 to 4, and six people aged 15 to 24 ― have died from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
DeSantis also ignored the likelihood that many children have mild or undetected cases of the virus and are infecting parents, teachers or anyone else they come into contact with. Reopening schools and other community spaces, public health officials say, should be based on how aggressively the disease is spreading, not on one age group’s potential vulnerability.
But DeSantis insisted: “If you’re younger, it just hasn’t had an impact, so that should factor into how we’re viewing this. I think the data on that has been 100% consistent.”
Education leaders who called for school closures have recognized the hardships involved.
“Closing schools is an agonizing decision, but, with caveats, it’s the inevitable and correct one in the midst of this unprecedented national emergency,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement last month when national teachers unions pressed for closures.
DeSantis finally bowed to pressure to impose a stay-at-home order last week ― weeks after many other states took action ― but he carved out an exception for religious services in churches, synagogues and other houses of worship, deeming them “essential” activities exempt from the mandate.
At the time, Florida had confirmed nearly 7,000 cases of coronavirus. As of Friday, that number was up to more than 17,000, with nearly 400 deaths.
The governor showed what he thinks of protective measures again on Wednesday, when he wore one glove during a press briefing and repeatedly touched his face with his bare hand.
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