The DeSantis administration has opened a new front in its campaign against public health mandates, expanding bans against universal mask and vaccine policies into a new prohibitory realm – “institutionalized quarantining.”
On his second day as Florida Department of Health (FDOH) Secretary and Surgeon General, Dr. Joe Lapado joined Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to announce new FDOH protocols applicable to school districts.
The new rules reiterate the previous policy that parents have sole discretion whether their children wear masks in school but also accords sole discretion to parents in choosing to quarantine their children after an exposure to COVID-19.
“Basically there is no high quality data about benefits” of quarantining students, Lapado said Wednesday. “We’re about 18 months into this pandemic and there is not a single high-quality study that shows that any child has ever benefited from that policy.”
While benefits of quarantining students are difficult to assess, “We actually do have good data about the costs,” he said. “There have been several studies that show that kids taken out of school, it’s extremely harmful. It’s too bad we needed a study to know that. But it’s great the studies agree with what I think most parents would have known without the study.”
“Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging for their educational advancement,” DeSantis said. “It’s also disruptive for families. We are going to be following a symptoms-based approach.”
The revised protocols eliminate a previous standard that required students quarantine for at least four days off campus if exposed to someone who tested positive.
Students who have been exposed, but are asymptomatic, can now go to school “without restrictions or disparate treatment” under the new guidelines.
The protocols retain previous guidelines for students who test positive. They still either quarantine for 10 days, receive a negative test and be asymptomatic before returning to campus.
The new protocols discard Rule 64DER21-12 , which authorized FDOH to issue rules governing “the control of preventable communicable diseases” in schools.
Under that rule, the state’s Department of Education was enforcing DeSantis’ executive order and Board of Education orders banning school boards from adopting universal mask mandates.
The Alachua, Broward, Leon and Miami-Dade and Orange county school districts sought an administrative hearing to challenge Rule 64DER21-12. But, because it was repealed, an administrative law judge Wednesday dismissed their case.
“Essentially, the state is responding to the legal challenges of its rules by repealing them and creating new ones, with limited public notice,” Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon said in a statement, calling the new protocols “disingenuous.”
The replacement rule retains the same policy — schools can require masks if parents can opt children out — but with revised language that stipulates compliance is “at the parent or legal guardian’s sole discretion.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), people who get infected can spread the virus starting from two days before they have any symptoms.
The CDC recommends students quarantine 14 days if unvaccinated. They can shorten the quarantine to seven days by testing negative, the CDC recommends.
That approach is too unwieldly, DeSantis said, touting the new “symptoms-based approach.”
“If someone is symptomatic, of course they stay at home,” he said. “If there is a close contact but someone has not developed any symptoms, you monitor them. You notify a parent. The parent always has the right to make their kids stay home, if they think that is in the best interest of the student and the family, 100% we would not want to intrude upon that.”