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New Mask Rules For Miami-Dade, Broward Schools After Holiday Break

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – On the first day of school after the winter break, there are new mask rules in Miami-Dade and Broward.

In Miami-Dade, it's mandatory for all adults to wear masks on school property. Masks are optional for students but highly encouraged.

At Doral Academy Preparatory School, senior Glenn Garcia told CBS4's Peter D'Oench, "I have tested positive recently but I am negative now and I want to wear a mask to keep others safe, like my grandparents who could get the disease because they are older and immuno-compromised."

Sophomore Augustin Martinez said, "I am wearing a mask because I don't want to take chances and I want to keep my family safe. I have relatives in my home. And I think it's a good idea they require all visitors to school to wear masks."

In Broward, a mask mandate is in place for all school visitors and vendors. For students, teachers, and staff, they are optional but they are urged to wear them.

Interim Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said, "I am very grateful to our parents and guardians of children and they get it. They are sending their kids to school with those facial coverings. It's not mandatory but they are willingly doing that. Wearing the face mask is recommended by the CDC in order to contain the spread of COVID-19."

But a law passed on November 18 says districts cannot require students to wear masks.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said, "Forcing kids to wear masks 8 hours a day is something that most parents do not want and we of course have parents the option if they think that is something that is good. You are even seeing some TV doctors on CNN admitting that cloth masks do not protect against OMICRON."

Cartwright also said she is coping with another problem due to COVID. She said about 1650 teachers called in sick on Monday compared with an average of 1200 teachers calling in sick on an average Monday after the Christmas break. She said the school system has 14,000 teachers and there is now a substitute teacher crisis. She said they maybe have to double up in some classrooms if the problem persists and they used a number of strategies to deal with problems on this Monday. She also said 120 drivers called in sick on this Monday.

As part of the effort to prevent another shutdown, on Sunday, the Miami-Dade school district began distributing about 10,000 at-home COVID tests across six different locations to their employees.

"Look, we cannot revisit last year and last year as a result of a surge in cases of COVID-19 virus, we in fact had to shut down schools," said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Broward County Public Schools also had a similar at-home COVID test distribution for their employees and both districts have reason to be concerned.

"There's a crisis in America, there's a crisis in our community, omicron has impacted America in a very severe and deep way," added Carvalho.

That impact can be seen in the latest COVID statistics, which show from December 24-30 there were 298,455 new COVID cases. The number more than doubled from the previous week of December 17-23 when the new COVID case count was 125,201. And, on New Year's Eve, the state added an additional 56,865 cases. Numbers that had many on high alert.

"We're not going to emerge from this crisis unless everyone has an active role in it and that is not solely the responsibility of the school board it's the responsibility of the entire community and together, we will emerge out of this stronger," said Carvalho.

In addition to testing, both districts are encouraging students and staff to get vaccinated and practice social distancing.

For a list of COVID testing sites across South Florida, click here.

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