TAMPA -- Governor Ron DeSantis says he's ready to fight for the no mask mandate law in court, and to lean on school districts that defy it.
DeSantis was taking reporters' questions at Tampa General Hospital, after getting an update on COVID-19 and the use of monoclonal antibody treatments to lessen the severity of symptoms and get patients out of the hospital more quickly. One reporter asked him about a potential lawsuit that she said several Tampa Bay lawyers planned to file against the law prohibiting mask mandates in classrooms. They are predicted to argue that the ban violates the Florida constitution by taking control away from local school boards. DeSantis confidently predicted a win in court, saying "it's parents' choice and government can't override the parents."
DeSantis says the supporters of mask mandates can't show any difference in masked vs unmasked classrooms as far as COVID transmission. He looked forward to tomorrow's emergency meeting of the Florida Board of Education, which is expected to propose various sanctions against schools that require masks. One proposal would give vouchers to students in schools with mask mandates.
The governor also opposes hospitals requiring staff members to get vaccinated. While he didn't say whether he would ban it, he did say he's opposed to the idea. DeSantis said that hospitals might have a harder time finding nurses in particular, who are already in short supply, if they required vaccines.
In Miami, Jackson Health announced Thursday that staff would either be vaccinated or be required to wear N95 masks at all times.
Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, Baptist Health Jacksonville, Ascension St. Vincent's, and VA hospitals and clinic are requiring staff to vaccinate.
At the news conference, TGH president John Couris said he wanted to send this message: the hospital is "open for business."
Couris said the hospital's surgery schedules are open, even as other hospitals, including the Baycare network, have shut down elective procedures.
Couris said TGH had 136 COVID patients as of Thursday morning, 85 percent of whom are unvaccinated. 54 were in ICUs, 13 of those were on ventilators. The other 15 percent are either elderly or have other immunosuppressive factors, such as cancer patients.
Florida reported an additional 20,133 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, making the state responsible for about 22 percent of the new cases reported nationwide for the day, according to data posted Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state also reported 84 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, accounting for nearly 17 percent of the reported deaths nationwide that day.
Meanwhile the numbers of people in Florida hospitals with COVID-19 reached 12,888, according to data maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
COVID-19 patients are occupying 22 percent of the hospital beds in the state, the highest percentage in the nation, the data show. Florida also lags in vaccination rates, a factor that has contributed to the spike.
Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report
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