White House press secretary Jen Psaki slammed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for his dangerous stance against face masks amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in his state, and accused the governor of cynically using the divisive issue for “fundraising.”
Psaki was responding to a question Friday from Peter Doocy of Fox News, who mentioned DeSantis’ threat to stop funding to Florida schools that require masks to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. Doocy asked if President Joe Biden shouldn’t also consider leaving the mask issue up to students’ parents.
Psaki replied: “I will say, as a parent myself — I have two young children — that I want public health officials to make decisions about how to keep my kids safe, not politicians. And not only is Governor DeSantis not abiding by public health decisions, he’s fundraising off of this.”
She said parents in Florida and the rest of the nation should be able to know that their children are going to school in safe environments. “That shouldn’t be too much to ask,” Psaki said.
DeSantis’ campaign team has sought to capitalize on the conspiratorial hostility that some voters harbor for scientists and public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert. DeSantis’ team is selling T-shirts and beverage coolers that read “Don’t Fauci My Florida.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, have recommended masking at schools as the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant continues to spread.
Florida is now the epicenter of the U.S. in terms of COVID-19 spread, accounting for at least 20% of the nation’s cases the past few weeks.
The state reported 134,506 new COVID-19 cases over the last week on Friday, more than any other seven-day period during the pandemic, according to CNN. Florida reported an average of 19,215 cases each day during that time, according to data released Friday by the state Health Department. The week’s total was about 22% higher than the previous week.
The previous record high was set Jan. 8, with 125,937 cases reported over seven days, for an average of 17,991 cases each day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, CNN noted.
Yet DeSantis is ignoring the skyrocketing number of cases, insisting it’s a matter of parents’ freedom of choice to allow their children to go unmasked.
“We can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state, and I can tell you, Florida, we’re a free state,” DeSantis said at a Wednesday news conference.
He also said that he won’t let his own young children wear masks, because he wants to see them “smiling.”
The sharpest uptick in Florida COVID-19 infections over the past month has been among children under the age of 12, who can’t yet receive any of the three vaccines available in the U.S., according to a Miami Herald analysis of weekly COVID-19 cases.
Ronald Ford, chief medical officer for Memorial Healthcare System’s Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, said the emergency rooms in children’s hospitals in the region are seeing far more symptomatic cases among kids than during previous COVID-19 waves.
“This is different,” Ford told the Miami Herald. “There’s a much higher percentage of pediatric patients becoming infected and symptomatic.”
As of Friday evening, DeSantis hadn’t responded to Psaki’s comments.