Hundreds of Florida doctors pen letter calling on DeSantis to repeal mask mandate ban

More than 800 Florida physicians on Thursday called on Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisBiden administration limits use of two monoclonal antibody treatments Poll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The Hill's Morning Report - US warns Kremlin, weighs more troops to Europe MORE (R) to repeal his executive order banning mask mandates as the state continues to see a record number of new COVID-19 cases.

“As the virus burns through Florida, health care providers feel we are fighting this fire without any leadership from Gov. Ron DeSantis. Blocking communities from making local decisions to protect themselves with his top-down, one-size-fits-all edict will only make matters worse,” said their letter, which was published through the Committee to Protect Health Care.

“His executive order prohibiting local school districts from implementing COVID-19 safeguards exposes every child to a virus that is deadlier than the flu, as contagious as smallpox and preventable with two basic mitigation measures: Mask use and vaccinations,” the physicians continued.

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“Gov. DeSantis has effectively outlawed the former, and all but ignored the latter. With schools resuming and children returning to classrooms, Gov. DeSantis’ anti-safety strategy puts people at risk, including children.”

The group wants DeSantis do more to support vaccination efforts in the state. Florida has seen a record number of infections in its daily case rate since the start of the pandemic.

In a statement to The Hill, DeSantis's press secretary, Christina Pushaw, disputed the notion that the Florida governor had ignored vaccinations, saying he had participated in vaccine-specific events around the state. She also pointed to the number of social media posts he made that highlighted vaccination efforts or promoted the COVID-19 vaccine.

However, DeSantis has railed against most COVID-19 mitigation measures, taking steps to ban vaccine mandates and fully reopen businesses in the Sunshine State during the pandemic against the advice of federal public health officials. 

In particular, DeSantis has taken aim at the nation's top infectious diseases expert, Anthony FauciAnthony FauciConservative pundit says YouTube blocked interview with Rand Paul Whoopi Goldberg rips Bill Maher over COVID-19 remarks: 'How dare you be so flippant' The Hill's Morning Report - US warns Kremlin, weighs more troops to Europe MORE, going so far as to sell merchandise on his campaign website that says "Don't Fauci my Florida" in opposition to coronavirus restrictions.  

Pushaw also pushed back at the physicians for saying the governor was rejecting "simple protections such as masks and vaccinations," saying that being against mandates did not make him against vaccines or masks entirely.

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"This is ridiculous. Everyone is allowed to wear masks if they want. Everyone is encouraged to get vaccinated if they want. Governor DeSantis is only against mandating masks and vaccinations. Being against mandates is not the same thing as being anti-vaccination or anti-mask, and it is pure intellectual dishonesty to conflate the two," Pushaw said.

On Wednesday, the state hit a new daily high of COVID-19 cases reported with 24,753 new coronavirus infections. The state has also saw a record number of patients in the hospital with 15,449 patients on Wednesday, eclipsing a previous record of 14,000, which was set on Monday.

The mask mandate ban has also affected Florida schools because the executive order gives parents the ability to opt their children out of mandates imposed by local districts. 

Palm Beach County School Superintendent Michael Burke said on Thursday that 51 students and staff in his schools have tested positive for COVID-19 in the two days that the school has reopened. As a result, 440 have had to isolate. 

Burke urged DeSantis to take responsibility for his executive order. 

"The governor has got to take responsibility for establishing the ground rules we're operating under," Burke said. "This ability for families to opt out is leading to more cases, which will ultimately send more kids home and deprive them of that traditional classroom experience."

DeSantis has urged residents to get vaccinated and said in late July that the shots were “saving lives.”

The Republican governor argued at a press conference in mid-July that localities that had decided to enforce mask mandates were implying that vaccines do not work.

“It's telling them that the vaccines don't work. I think that's the worst message you can send to people at this time because I think that the data has been really, really good in terms of preserving people ... saving people's lives ... reducing mortality dramatically,” DeSantis said. 

--Updated on August 15 at 3:30 p.m.

This story has been updated to reflect the daily case rates for Florida based on CDC data.