COVID-19 Morning Report
Florida Judge Overturns Stay Allowing School Districts to Keep Mask Mandates, Blasts State Attorneys
The administration of Governor Ron DeSantis filed an emergency motion to reinstate a stay on a ruling that allows school districts to keep their mask mandates. The move came hours after a Leon County judge lifted the stay on his own ruling that effectively says the state has to allow districts to defend their mask policies before they can be punished.
Leon County Judge John Cooper criticized attorneys for the state for misrepresenting his original ruling on mask mandates. Cooper said he did not say the DeSantis administration can’t punish districts with mask mandates. The can, but they have to do it by following the full law.
“Essentially what the court said was, that a party passing a regulation can intrude upon a plaintiff’s/parent’s fundamental rights to make medical or healthcare decisions only when it can demonstrate it’s reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest,” said Cooper.
“That’s not an unusual interpretation because, Mr. Able, your firm has filed a lawsuit in Jacksonville and asserted the very same thing.”
Michael Able is the attorney representing the state, and the one responsible for defending Gov. DeSantis, who has argued school districts are violating the parents bill of rights with their mask mandates.
The state has used that law as a basis for an executive order, and later a Department of Health Emergency Rule that says parents should be able to opt out of school mask mandates.
In August, Cooper sided with a group of parents who filed a lawsuit arguing that those rules put their kids at risk of contracting the coronavirus because they’re too young to be vaccinated. Cooper sided with the parents and issued an injunction preventing the state from enforcing only part of the law.
Since then, DeSantis has been on the offensive, doubling down on his position that masks should be optional for students in school. DeSantis has also taken swipes at the 2nd Judicial Circuit for a previous rulings against him, like one last year on school reopenings.
“It was not a good ruling obviously and it got really strongly reversed on appeal, so I think we’ll see something similar here,” said DeSantis.
Able, in arguing to keep the stay on the school mask ruling in place, charged the court is substituting its own policy preferences for those of the state. That charge that drew a rebuke from the judge.
“Mr. Able, this court didn’t do that. What this court did was say that the Parents Bill of Rights, passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, must be enforced fully, not partly. That’s what this court held in the final judgment,” said Cooper.
Cooper also noted previous rulings where he’s sided with the state, such as rulings favoring former Governors Rick Scott and Jeb Bush, and a recent one against counties on a constitutional amendment on elected sheriffs.
“If you look at my record, it’s not somebody who runs all over the place, ruling against the governor. What it is, I think, is a record of somebody who tries to figure out what the law is,” said Cooper.
The issue over school masking has only grown more contentious. Even as this lawsuit makes its way to the appellate courts, there are others still pending in federal and administrative law court.
The federal government has also jumped into the fray announcing it will offer grants to school districts that are being financially punished over their COVID-19 mitigation rules. Florida is already fining at least two districts for requiring students to wear masks. In the weeks since Cooper’s ruling at least 13 Florida School Districts, including Lee and Sarasota, violating DeSantis’ executive order.
SWFL COVID Hospitalizations Declining, Deaths Increasing
Lee Health reported another decline, Thursday, in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Lee Health had 495 COVID patients, yesterday, including 13 pediatric patients. That compares to 522 patients the previous day.
Resources remain strained, as Lee Health reported being at 99% of staffed operational bed capacity, with 96% of ICU rooms full. There were 87 patients in the ICU, Thursday, including 82 on ventilators.
On Thursday, Lee Health's COVID-19 death toll equaled the previous single-day high of 18 fatalities. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 1,017 COVID patients have died in Lee Health hospitals.
Lee Health officials urge residents to remain vigilant, saying in a statement "A declining number of COVID-19 patients is not a reason to become complacent or think this current wave caused by the Delta variant is over. Our hospitals are still almost full, and we are still caring for many more COVID-19 patients than we were last year.”
The News-Press reports, the NCH Healthcare system in Collier County reported having 155 hospitalized COVID patients, Thursday. 85% are unvaccinated.
NCH is at 147% of staffed and operational critical care bed capacity with 56 COVID patients in the ICU, including 39 on ventilators.
Physicians Regional Healthcare System, also in Collier, had 84 COVID patients, Thursday, down from 74 the previous day.
Meanwhile Sarasota Memorial Hospital reported having 246 hospitalized COVID patients, yesterday, which is down from 250 on Wednesday. Sarasota Memorial had 76 COVID patients in the ICU, Thursday, compared to 72 on Wednesday.
The Herald Tribune reports, Sarasota Memorial reported seven more COVID deaths, Sept. 9, for a total of 126 fatalities, since Aug. 6, including 31 fatalities, just in the last week.
On Wednesday, Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton reporting 35 deaths of hospitalized COVID patients, since Aug. 27.
Florida Law Enforcement Leaders Urge Police Officers to Get COVID-19 Vaccine
The Officer Down Memorial website lists each law enforcement officer who dies and the cause of their death. The non-profit lists COVID-19 as the top one this year.
In South Florida, five officers died in one week alone last month. Miami Beach Police Officer Edward Perez died from COVID-19 that week in August. A service took place to honor him at St. Patrick church.
Chief Art Acevedo with the Miami Police Department is using Twitter to share photos of the condolence letters he’s been signing for officers around the U.S. who’ve died from COVID-19.
“I will go to the grave saying that the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and others is to be vaccinated,” said Chief Acevedo.
South Florida Police Benevolent Association President Steadman Stahl said officials should've allowed police officers to get vaccinated when the rollout first started. Now, he says, that momentum is gone.
“The ones that were 30, 40, 50 years-old that wanted the shot that were out there dealing with the public day in and day out, we could not get that shot,” said Stahl.
He said officers shouldn’t worry about the side effects. He said all he got was a sore arm and protection from the coronavirus.
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