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Jacksonville doctors calling for statewide mask mandate in public schools

Doctors are calling for a number of stricter safety protocols to be implemented in school districts statewide – including a mask mandate.

DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. — The State Board of Education unanimously voted Tuesday night to have Commissioner Richard Corcoran further investigate if two Florida school boards are violating state law by requiring masks.

Chair Tom Grady says punishment for Alachua and Broward counties could include withholding funds and removing officials.

“Every school district, superintendent, they have to comply with the law – whether they agree with it or not," Commissioner Corcoran said. "That is what makes our country singularly the greatest country in the history of mankind.“

Ahead of their emergency meeting Tuesday, a group of Jacksonville doctors sent a letter to board members asking them to “allow local leaders to take the actions they believe are best for their school districts.”

You can read the full letter below

The Jacksonville doctors were once hopeful of the parental opt-out mask policy the Duval County School Board approved two weeks ago.

However, they’re now calling for a number of stricter safety protocols to be implemented in school districts statewide – including a mask mandate.

“We are losing teachers, we are losing school staff members, we're losing first responders," Dr. Nancy Staats, a founding member of Doctors Fighting COVID said. "Every day in the newspaper... it's another story, another tragedy.“

Staats helped write the group’s letter requesting a sweeping mask mandate after hearing about difficulties teachers are having enforcing the district’s opt-out policy.

“That comes from individual reports of teachers and parents saying 'My student is the only one of one or two who are masked,'" she said. "I hear from people who have children at Fletcher High, for example, that there's almost no masks being used.”

Doctors Fighting COVID is also asking the State Board of Education to highly encourage vaccinations among staff members and teachers, as well as students 12 years and older. The letter states, "use federal funds to place vaccine clinics and testing sites within the schools. Education based on current scientific literature that addresses vaccine recommendations should be provided, which includes information on safety and efficacy."

Plus, the organization is requesting immediate reporting of positive cases to the schools and the families impacted.

Staats says data reporting is another issue their organization is particularly concerned about right now in Duval County.

“Because we don't have any reports on the number of students quarantined," she explained. "We also have good information from teachers and parents who have reported back to the school a positive test, but that has not showed up on the dashboard for days and days and days.“

Staats says she’s requested a meeting with Duval County Department of Health leaders to find out why there may be a delay in reporting.

After the emergency meeting wrapped up, First Coast News reached out to all members of the board of education regarding the doctors’ letter, but have not yet heard back.

FULL LETTER:

Dear State Board of Education Members,

As physicians in the Jacksonville area, we implore you to do everything in your power to encourage all efforts to mitigate the terrible toll that COVID-19 is taking on our community. This includes supporting local leaders as they navigate what actions may be best for their school districts.

In addition, the best ways to relieve our over-burdened health care system and help ensure the health and safety of our students and teachers are to:

1) Strongly encourage vaccinations of all teachers and staff immediately; use federal funds to place vaccine clinics and testing sites within the schools. Education based on current scientific literature that addresses vaccine recommendations should be provided, which includes information on safety and efficacy. Over 50 large medical organizations support mandatory vaccination for their workers (reference 1). We are simply asking that you encourage it strongly because teachers are working with a vulnerable population and may themselves be vulnerable.

2) Strongly encourage vaccination of eligible students in the same way. Provide information to parents and students on the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. (reference 2 and 3)

3) Mandate the immediate and universal use of masks for all teachers, staff and students. A large proportion of our community, including our teachers and other staff, are suffering, many are experiencing irreversible injury, and deaths have been increasing at an alarming rate. Importantly, children, who were once thought less effected by the original form of COVID-19, are now experiencing more severe illness often requiring hospitalization, and at times critical care support. Adult and pediatric ICUs are beyond capacity in our community and deaths are occurring in both children and adults. Long COVID symptoms are affecting over 10% of children and 30% of Adults. We need mandatory masking as mitigation until we can lessen the community’s viral load. (reference 4).

4) We must have immediate reporting of positive cases to the schools and the families impacted by it in order for quarantines to be effective and to take appropriate actions. While the at-home tests are sometimes unreliable in detecting all cases (that is, may falsely display negative result even if infection is present) they are very accurate in a positive result (nearly all positive tests are the result of actual infection).

5) Each school district should inform the schools and community about their plans for COVID testing, exposure notification, and the metric thresholds for the initiation of virtual learning as an option, and the discontinuation of in-person learning. Without established facts, appropriate decisions cannot be made by school districts and their communities.

We understand you may not have the full authority to institute mandates or in-school mitigation policies; we ask only that you allow local leaders to take the actions that they believe are best for their school districts and communities. We urge you to adhere to the recommendations from Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in his recent communication. (reference 5)

We all want the same thing: to keep our students safe and a secure in schools that are open, so our children and teachers can learn and thrive.

Thank you for your consideration,

Doctors Fighting Covid, LLC

Nancy Staats, MD

Carl Burak, MD

Alan Halperin, MD

Adriana Cantville, DO

Jennifer Cowart, MD

Mohammed Reza, MD

Scott Silvers, MD

Frederick Southwick, MD

Anil Suryaprasad, MD

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