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Florida Gov. DeSantis Holds Roundtable with Experts to Discuss Masks in Schools


Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) Monday held a press conference with medical professionals, a concerned parent, and a student to discuss masks in schools for the upcoming school year.

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and research associate at the National Bureau of Economics Research (NEBR), H. Cody Meissner, MD, a pediatrician and chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease and professor of pediatrics at the Tufts University School of Medicine, and Mark McDonald, MD, a clinical child psychiatrist, all participated in the roundtable.

They were joined by Dr. David Withun, the head of Jacksonville Classical Academy, Anita Whitby Davis, a parent from Jacksonville, and Everett Thompson, a high school student from Tallahassee.

Star News Education Foundation Journalism ProjectDeSantis asked Bhattacharya about the COVID-19 Delta variant, which has been in the news as cases of the virus rise again nationwide.

“I don’t think the Delta variant changes the calculus or the evidence in any fundamental way, Governor,” Bhattacharya said.

Bhattacharya noted that this school year, every teacher has had the opportunity to be vaccinated, as have students over the age of 12.

“And so, the masks themselves have a marginal, if any benefit, marginal benefit in slowing the spread of the disease,” he said. “And of course, masks do actually cause some harm to children developmentally. So I don’t think that the calculus has changed at all.”

Meissner encouraged adults to get vaccinated but did not agree that mask mandates should be implemented in schools.

“First of all, we’re seeing disease in two populations right now, we’re seeing COVID-19 infections in adults who have not obtained the vaccine,” he said. “And I think everyone agrees that adults should be vaccinated. They should be fully vaccinated, either one or two vaccines depending on the manufacturer. And if a person is vaccinated, then that person is more than 99% protected against severe disease, going to the hospital, or from dying.”

Later, he told DeSantis that masks should be optional for students.

McDonald, the psychiatrist, advised strongly against mask mandates in schools:

My position is simple. Masking children is child abuse. There is no evidence to support the contention that masks prevent the transmission of respiratory illness through viruses at all. And there’s substantial evidence shows that children have been medically, physically, and psychologically harmed by mandatory mask mandates. I said this, and I maintain this position from last April of 2020. And I continue my position today. Unchanged. In fact, I even reinforced this position. I’ve seen hundreds of children in the last year come to my practice who are coughing, spitting, sick in the throat streptococcal infections, conjunctivitis, impetigo, allergic reactions, panic attacks, all from masks. Not a single child has benefited medically from wearing a mask, and they’ve all been hurt.

Withun, Davis, and Thompson all agreed that masks should be optional for students.

Withun said that by January of last year, Jacksonville Classical Academy had gone back to operating normally.

“So we had all of our students, all 450 in the building, essentially functioning as normal in the classroom,” he said. “And the result was that we had a normal school year. We had a few students and teachers who tested COVID positive often at the end of a vacation time and not during the actual school weeks. They stayed home and the rest of us continued to go on and then they returned to us when they were well again.”

Davis said her two sons did much better without masks than they did with mask mandates, and that it should be up to individuals to make decisions about masks.

“We take the proper precautions, right?” she said. “Like we would with any other thing, with the flu. And we make sure that we are doing what we need, but our boys, for the most part, now they’re participating in sports. And the mask probably only helped mom with the smell of football. Really. Other than that, nothing.”

Thompson noted that “nobody my age without any medical conditions is really concerned about it that I know,” and that outside of school last year, he and his friends did not wear masks.

Watch the entire discussion here.

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Pete D’Abrosca is a contributor at The Florida Capital Star and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to