Pandemic data released ahead of Thursday state meeting to defund mask-requiring school districts
Tallahassee, Fla. — Today, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, an independently-elected member of the Florida Cabinet, held a virtual press conference to release and discuss school district COVID-19 data which Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration has worked to block. This data shows clear evidence that school districts requiring masks resulted in up to four times lower COVID-19 cases per capita than school districts that did not require masks. Commissioner Fried released the data in advance of today’s Board of Education meeting, which will determine punishment for eleven Florida school districts requiring masks.
On August 12, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services public record requested COVID-19 data from the Florida Department of Health, including daily cases, deaths, and hospitalizations for every Florida county and every age, as well as ICU capacity. Nearly two months later, these public records have not been provided; Commissioner Fried therefore directed her department to compile and analyze all publicly available COVID-19 data from school districts, so that the public may know how COVID-19 has impacted Florida schools and the effects of mask-wearing policies.
UPDATED DATA as of 2pm on 10/7 may be viewed here. Updated key findings within the data include:
- 2.6 times lower student COVID-19 cases per capita in school districts starting the school year with mask requirements (Alachua, Broward, Miami-Dade) than school districts without mask requirements
- School districts without mask requirements had nearly twice as many student COVID-19 cases as school districts requiring masks
- School districts without mask requirements, had nearly 3.5 times higher student COVID-19 peak cases per capita than school districts requiring masks
- The smallest school districts, without mask requirements, had four times higher student COVID-19 peak cases per capita than in the largest school districts where masks were required
- Maskless Highlands County’s peak cases per capita (12) were 600 times higher than in masked Miami-Dade and Broward counties (0.02)
- 0.69 peak cases per capita in school districts requiring masks; 0.98 peak cases per capita in school districts with mask parental opt-outs; 2.31 peak cases per capita in school districts with no mask requirements
- Five largest school districts had average 0.48 peak cases per capita, while five smallest school districts had 1.82 peak cases per capita
“For months, Governor DeSantis has worked to undermine masks in the fight against COVID-19, releasing misinformation about so-called ‘forced masking’ at every turn, despite nearly all experts agreeing that masks work. When brave local elected school leaders dared to defy the Governor and require masks in schools, his petty response has been to defund our school districts. Because his Administration has refused to provide the COVID-19 data I requested months ago, I have directed my staff to compile all publicly available COVID-19 school data. This data clearly shows the truth: the Governor is lying about masks in schools,” said Commissioner Fried. “Every way you look at the data, kids were better off in schools requiring masks than those that did not. School districts that did nothing suffered four times higher COVID-19 cases than school districts that required masks, in direct contradiction to the Governor’s disinformation. I stand with students, parents, teachers, and President Biden in support of our school districts that have taken action to keep kids healthy, keep parents working, and keep communities safe.”
Background: Despite intense criticism from parents, teachers, and public health experts, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order banning local school districts from implementing temporary mask requirements in schools as Florida again became the nation’s COVID-19 epicenter. While state and federal lawsuits continue at taxpayer expense over DeSantis’s misleading executive order, including allegations of violating federal disabilities laws, his Department of Education took the unprecedented step of defunding a school district that passed a mask requirement, and will meet today to consider defunding nearly a dozen additional school districts. After President Biden intervened on behalf of teachers and school districts, DeSantis doubled down by threatening to further defund school districts that accept federal assistance. The White House and federal officials have been critical of DeSantis’s defunding of schools, calling his actions “an abdication of state leaders’ duty to keep our children safe.” This week, the DeSantis Administration faced further criticism for Florida being the only state having failed to submit plans for more than $2 billion in American Rescue Plan federal school funding.
Methodology: School districts in all 67 Florida counties were queried for publicly accessible COVID-19 data dashboards. 33 school districts possess publicly accessible COVID-19 data dashboards that publish aggregated case data, on a weekly basis, not only single day/week data, for all active weeks of the 2021-22 school year. Cases per capita is calculated as total cases through the week of September 20 divided by total school district enrollment. Peak cases per capita is calculated as peak week cases divided by total school district enrollment. All data is generally week-over-week dependent on school district data publication schedule. School district enrollment data is via the Florida Department of Education. County population data is via the Florida Association of Counties.