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Southwest Florida doctors sign letter challenging governor's ban on mask mandates

Local doctors say Ron DeSantis needs to change course to protect children
Posted at 9:05 PM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-24 21:06:22-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A number of Southwest Florida doctors have been adding their names to a letter for the governor.

The letter now includes signatures of more than 1200 Florida doctors.

It calls on DeSantis to end his ban on mask mandates.

We spoke with one of the doctors who's added her signature to the letter.

Below is an edited (for clarity and length) transcript of our conversation.

WFTX: Dr. Stephanie Gardener, dermatologist here in SWFL. Thank you for speaking with us. Why did you think it's important to go ahead and add your name to this letter to the governor?

DR. STEPHANIE GARDNER/SIGNED LETTER ASKING GOVERNOR TO END BAN ON MASK REQUIREMENTS: I guess I did it because I am angry with our leadership starting with Ron DeSantis for being a politician and not following the science. And then getting the way of our local officials to do the right thing. To protect our children in our schools

WFTX: Do you think this letter with so many doctors on it, will make a different in how the governor is settling policy when it comes to covid?

DR. STEPHANIE GARDNER/SIGNED LETTER ASKING GOVERNOR TO END BAN ON MASK REQUIREMENTS: I frankly do not know. He seems like he's not listening to the science. So all we can do it try. I think the most important than we can do is protect our children since he won't. WFTX: Let me ask you about that because he has suggested and other people have said, and I'm using their words here, they see it a form of child abuse to force a child to wear a mask.

DR. STEPHANIE GARDNER/SIGNED LETTER ASKING GOVERNOR TO END BAN ON MASK REQUIREMENTS: Wow. That's a stretch. Masks don't interfere with me doing my job. Masks don't interfere with children learning. Them getting covid, having to quarantine, getting sick and going to the hospital. That definitely interferes with their learning.>

WFTX: Dr. Stephanie Gardner one of the hundreds of Florida doctors who've signed this letter calling on the governor to change this ban on mask mandates. We thank you for speaking with us.

DR. STEPHANIE GARDNER/SIGNED LETTER ASKING GOVERNOR TO END BAN ON MASK REQUIREMENTS: Thank you for having me. Take care.

Below is a summer of the letter Dr. Gardener and more than 1200 other Florida doctors have sent to the governor.

Let's work together to protect Florida children

Physicians across Florida are concerned about Florida’s children and their risk of COVID-19 infections.

As the virus burns through Florida, health care providers feel we are fighting this fire without any leadership from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Blocking communities from making local decisions to protect themselves with his top-down, one-size-fits-all edict will only make matters worse.

His executive order prohibiting local school districts from implementing COVID-19 safeguards exposes every child to a virus that is deadlier than the flu, as contagious as smallpox and preventable with two basic mitigation measures: Mask use and vaccinations. Gov. DeSantis has effectively outlawed the former, and all but ignored the latter.

With schools resuming and children returning to classrooms, Gov. DeSantis’ anti-safety strategy puts people at risk, including children.

This past week, COVID-19 has infected more than 19,000 Floridians every day, the worst weekly infection rate since the pandemic began, and hospitalized an average of 1,800 Floridians daily.

In the last week of July, at least 35 children were hospitalized every day for COVID-19 in Florida, a number that is very likely an undercount since Gov. DeSantis stopped sharing COVID-19
statistics.

Fewer than half of eligible Floridians are fully vaccinated. At the same time, COVID-19 vaccinations are authorized for use only in people ages 12 and older -- meaning 120,000 pre-K- to fifth-graders in the Tampa Bay area can’t be vaccinated.

To protect the health of vulnerable Floridians, we are calling on Gov. DeSantis to do three things immediately.

One, Gov. DeSantis must repeal his reckless executive order and allow and encourage local school districts to implement safeguards that can minimize COVID-19 spread such as mask-wearing.

Two, his administration must resume reporting COVID-19 daily data in full. And three, Gov. DeSantis must do much more to get vaccinations in people’s arms.

Gov. DeSantis should strongly encourage every eligible Floridian to get vaccinated and make vaccinations easier, including in local schools.

Shots in arms are only part of an effective safety strategy.

For children ineligible for a vaccine, the only protection they have against COVID-19 is for them to wear a mask, and for those around them to do the same. As physicians, we agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that all schools have students, staff and teachers wear masks, which scientific evidence shows reduces COVID-19 spread.

What’s heartbreaking and infuriating for us as doctors is watching children needlessly suffer while Gov. DeSantis rejects simple protections such as masks and vaccinations.

Asking local schools and jurisdictions to look the other way while COVID-19 tears through our communities, or lose funding if they implement safeguards, won’t protect kids.

Waving the flag of personal choice, as Gov. DeSantis does, even as those choices endanger the lives of others only robs millions of Floridians of the freedom to eat out, be with their loved ones and, yes, learn in schools safely.

Enough is enough. Florida needs to mask up, get vaccinated, and have a governor willing to lead.

The Committee to Protect Health Care coordinate the letter.

The organization describes itself this way: The Committee to Protect Health Care, formerly known as the Committee to Protect Medicare, is a national mobilization of doctors, health care professionals, and advocates who are building a pro-patient health care majority in Congress and in states so that we can live in an America where everyone has the health care they need to thrive. To learn more: www.committeetoprotect.org