A Florida judge ruled on Wednesday that the state must stop enforcing Gov. Ron DeSantis’s ban on mask mandates as the state attempts to make their case that the ban should stay in place.
Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said that the state’s argument for the ban was flimsy, emphasizing that masks are important in stopping the spread of the virus. “We’re not in normal times. We are in a pandemic,” he said. In issuing the ban, he said, the state was overstepping its authority.
“We have a variant that’s more infectious and more dangerous to children than the one we had last year,” Cooper said, siding with parents who challenged the ban. “We’re in a non-disputed pandemic situation with threats to young children who, at least based on the evidence, have no way to avoid this unless to stay home and isolate themselves. I think everybody agrees that’s not good for them.” The state swiftly filed an appeal against Cooper’s decision.
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This is the second time that Cooper has ruled against the mandate. The first time was two weeks ago, when the judge said that the order defies the state’s constitution, which guarantees a right to safe schools. The state had filed an appeal against the ruling, allowing the mask mandate ban to go on temporarily until Wednesday’s ruling shot it down again, with Cooper saying that he does not believe the state’s appeal will be successful.
Now that a court has shot down the appeal, it can’t be enforced, pending the decision of the state’s appeal. That means, according to NPR, that the state’s efforts to defund and fine school districts defying the mask mandate ban are also on hold for now.
The case next goes in front of the Tallahassee 1st District Court of Appeals. DeSantis, unlike Cooper, is confident that the state’s appeal will be successful. “What we’ve found is in the trial courts in Tallahassee, state and federal, we typically lose if there’s a political component to it, but then in the appeals court we almost always win,” DeSantis said Wednesday.
“I don’t know why the masks have politics around it,” the governor also said. But mask-wearing has been politicized by DeSantis’s own party; early in the pandemic, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began recommending that people wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus, it was Republicans who ridiculed and bucked that recommendation.
Donald Trump was one of the first prominent Republicans to come out against wearing a mask, despite the gravity of the burgeoning pandemic and the scientific evidence that masks were effective at preventing spread of the virus. Since then, it has always been the Republicans spreading disinformation about masks and the severity of the pandemic.
DeSantis himself has participated wholeheartedly in the politicization of masks. In his executive order barring mask mandates, he wrote that “forcing students to wear masks lacks a well-grounded scientific justification.” But his office cherry-picked evidence for that claim, citing a preliminary study from Brown University that even the study’s authors wrote did not offer conclusive evidence. Meanwhile, DeSantis has ignored several other studies showing that masking is effective in protecting children in schools.
Partly as a result of DeSantis’s mask ban, pediatric COVID cases have been surging in the state. In August, Florida had the highest pediatric case rate of any other state in the country. The surge overwhelmed children’s hospitals, and children as young as two weeks old have died due to COVID.