Florida won't force students to quarantine if they've been exposed to COVID-19
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, accompanied by the state's controversial new surgeon general, signed a new rule on Wednesday that allows students directly exposed to COVID-19 to keep going to school, so long as they are asymptomatic.
The emergency rule says it is meant to "minimize the detriment to students and school personnel from the added burden of recurrent removal of students, and to benefit the overall welfare of students in Florida," as well as protect parents' rights and preserve Floridians' "constitutional freedoms."
Under the new rule, students who test positive for COVID-19 or who have symptoms are not allowed to attend school until they either get a negative test and no longer have symptoms, or 10 days have passed since they first got symptoms or tested positive, and they have not had a fever in 24 hours. If a student gets a doctor's note saying they can go back to school, they can avoid those restrictions.
For students who were in "direct contact" with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 — meaning they spent a total of at least 15 minutes within six feet — it is up to the parents whether they continue going to school, the rule says.
If the student is asymptomatic, they can either continue going without any restrictions, or they can go under quarantine for no more than seven days from the date of the last direct contact with the individual who is COVID-positive.
The rule is at odds with guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In August, the CDC stated that the only time asymptomatic individuals exposed to COVID-19 do not need to quarantine is if they are fully vaccinated. Those not fully vaccinated are supposed to quarantine for 14 days after exposure, regardless of the result of their COVID test, the CDC says, or they can go under a 7- to 10-day quarantine with a negative test result, depending on their local health department's recommendations.
Vaccinations have not been approved for those younger than 12, and Florida, like the majority of the U.S. is experiencing a "high" level of community transmission. Communities with high transmission are supposed to offer weekly screening testing for students and cancel or pause high-risk sports and extracurriculars, according to the CDC.
The new rule also specifies that schools may require mask-wearing on campus, but that parents are allowed to opt out of the mask requirement "at the parent or legal guardian's sole discretion."
CBS Miami reports the new language on masks short-circuited legal challenges by five school districts who were seeking to overturn DeSantis' ban on school mask mandates. Administrative Law Judge Brian Newman said during a telephone hearing Wednesday morning that he did not have any "wiggle room" after the revised rule was issued.
"I don't think I have any jurisdiction to do anything other than to dismiss this case," Newman said.
"Parents have the right to have their healthy kids in school," DeSantis said in a statement. "In-person education is important for a students' wellbeing, their educational advancement, and their social development. ... Not only is the forced quarantining of healthy children disruptive to a student's education, but many folks in Florida are not able to work from home."
DeSantis also said that "the idea that schools are somehow a big problem when it comes to spread of the virus" has been refuted. Data on infections and school closings, however, paint a different picture.
While the state is experiencing a downward trend in cases overall, children and teens in Florida have the highest new case positivity rate in the state, according to state data. From September 10 to 16, there were more than 9,600 cases of COVID-19 in children between the ages of 12 and 19, and more than 12,200 cases in children under 12.
Within the first few days of school, just over a month ago, hundreds of students in Palm Beach County had to go into quarantine after possibly being exposed to COVID-19 at school. Since then, there have been more than 5,500 reported cases of COVID-19 in the districts schools and facilities, including more than 4,800 students, according to the district.
Florida's new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who was appointed by DeSantis the day before the new rule was announced, has come under fire for op-eds criticizing COVID measures recommended by the CDC and his association with a group promoting false COVID treatments.
Ladapo said he and the governor "share a similar vision" and that this policy is an example of it.
"We must make sure that we are doing what is right for parents and for students," Ladapo said. "...It's important to respect the rights of parents."
Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book blasted Ladapo and the new school policy, arguing that it puts students at risk, CBS Miami reported.
"Florida's new Surgeon General is a doctor of disinformation who traffics in anti-vaccine and anti-mask conspiracies which threaten public health and safety. His first official move puts schoolchildren at risk and places his dangerous denial of science on full display. I urge Florida school districts to follow sensible health policies to ensure the safety and well-being of students, teachers, and staff," she said in a statement.
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