Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that he will sign an executive order "protecting the rights of parents" by banning mask mandates in his state.
"There's a movement to try to impose more restrictions on the American people," the governor said at a news conference broadcast by WPLG-TV.
"In Florida, there will be no lockdowns, there will be no school closures, there will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida," he declared, standing in opposition to public health officials who have called for vaccine mandates and a renewed requirement for all Americans to wear face masks in areas with high rates of COVID-19 infections.
DeSantis said Floridians should be free to make their own decisions about what is best for them and that the state government's role was to protect the rights to work, conduct business, and attend school.
His executive order will issue emergency rules for "protecting the rights of parents" by banning school districts from imposing mask mandates, leaving the choice of whether to mask children up to their parents.
DeSantis' order will come into immediate conflict with the Broward County School board, which voted on Wednesday to require all K-12 students and faculty to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations on masking and social distancing in the upcoming school year.
School board members expressed concerns about the risks posed by the Delta variant of coronavirus, which is capable of infecting and being spread by vaccinated people.
Earlier this week, the CDC issued updated guidance recommending that all individuals in areas with high COVID-19 transmission wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The policy is a stark change from the CDC's recommendations in May, which said vaccinated people were fully protected from COVID-19 and could resume activities they enjoyed exactly as they did before the pandemic, without masks or social distancing.
Reasons given for the change were that unpublished data suggested vaccinated people were capable of becoming infected with and spreading the Delta variant, putting anyone who was unvaccinated at high risk of contracting the virus, possibly becoming hospitalized or even dying. But scientists and other experts questioned the CDC for not immediately publishing that data and for sowing confusion and doubt on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
After the criticism, the unpublished data referred to by CDC officials was leaked to the Washington Post. An internal CDC document proclaims that "the war has changed," that the Delta variant spreads as easily as chickenpox and is possibly more severe than other variants of the virus. The document makes clear the CDC is struggling to figure out how to communicate to the public that the vaccines are still safe and effective while acknowledging that breakthrough infections could mean promises that COVID restrictions would go away might be impossible to keep without more people becoming vaccinated.
DeSantis said forcing universal masking in schools "would be a huge mistake" and complained that the CDC wasn't properly considering the physical and mental well-being of children.