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Parents, doctors react to Florida surgeon general's new policy on no longer requiring students to quarantine after COVID-19 exposure

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo signed a policy letting parents decide whether or not to quarantine their child if they're exposed and don't have symptoms.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Quarantine is now optional for students who've been exposed to COVID-19 but aren't showing symptoms in Florida. 

The state's new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, signed an emergency rule Wednesday, his second day on the job letting parents decide whether or not to quarantine their child if they've been exposed and are asymptomatic.

Ladapo said keeping healthy students out of school is harmful. The previous policy required students to quarantine for at least four days.

"We will consider costs and benefits, and it's not a sensible policy, so we're not going to do it," he said.

Governor Ron DeSantis said quarantining students will hurt them and their families.

"Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging for their educational advancement," DeSantis said. "It's also incredibly disruptive for families all throughout the state of Florida," he said.

"The parent always has the right to make to have their kids stay home. If they think that's in the best interest of the student and the family, 100 percent we would not want to intrude on that," DeSantis said.

Rebecca Seban has two children, an eight-year-old and a three-year-old, in St. Johns County Schools. Her daughter has special needs.

"It's horrifying every day sending my children into the lion's den with no protection," she said.

"The new protocol from the Surgeon General has me absolutely terrified. As a parent, I have two young children who are too young to be vaccinated, and it's now making me seek alternative options for their schooling," Seban said.

Local pediatrician Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, said the Surgeon General's decision wasn't based on science. Goldhagen also works for the University of Florida and his views don't reflect the University's.

"What the Surgeon General has done is sacrifice science on the altar of politics, and it's placing children at extreme, extreme risk," Goldhagen said.

“They're very, very much based on taking a political position that is jeopardizing the health and well being of children and moving the conflict to the schools, or escalating the conflict in the school since it's been placed there in the past. They're the wrong decisions that are going to place children at increased risk for their health and well being," Goldhagen said.

According to Goldhagen, about 50 percent of children who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.

“This is a very difficult situation for parents, and I empathize with them significantly. Currently, if these recommendations are put in place, it's like playing Russian roulette with your children," Goldhagen said.

Goldhagen recommends parents keep their children home, in virtual school if possible, until they can get vaccinated. As for his advice for schools administrators, he said follow the science.

"It places the schools in a very difficult situation. Those schools that have been courageous enough to implement a masking will hopefully defy this and require quarantining. Those schools that haven't will increasingly place their children at jeopardy as far as their health and well-being," Goldhagen said.

St. Johns and Clay County Schools said they'll follow the Surgeon General's new policy. A spokesperson for Duval County Public Schools said there are no immediate changes in COVID protocols. However, she said DCPS will work with the local department of health and the city to decide if the policy will impact its protocols. 

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