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Day 1 Of School Mask Trial Focuses On Delta Variant Transmission

A young girl in a yellow sweater, her hair in pigtails, wears a face mask

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to stop school districts from mandating students wear masks is in court this week. A Leon County judge is hearing a lawsuit brought by a dozen parents who want to overturn the governor’s mandate ban. Day One of testimony focused heavily on the transmissibility of the Delta variant.

The variant is so contagious that if it were compound interest, investors would see a great return, "but in this case, it’s exponential growth of a pretty terrifying infection," University of South Florida epidemiologist Thomas Unnash testified Monday in the first day of the trial.

DeSantis’ administration has sought to stop school districts from mandating students wear face coverings amid growing concern about kids—once thought largely immune to the virus—becoming sicker. DeSantis has argued face mask use should be voluntary, and has repeatedly pointed to a study from Brown University that questions the efficacy of face coverings in schools. But that study, says Unnash, is problematic.

“They were trying to disentangle, rather unsuccessfully, a whole variety of different factors that could lead to the result they got…but they did not take into account levels of community transmission," Unnash said.

Unnash said the Brown University researchers also couldn’t control for classroom density or ventilation, among other issues. A peer review is in progress but hasn’t been completed, which is a must for validation and verification of findings.

Parents in the lawsuit argue voluntary mask use is an unacceptable risk to the health of their children. And they want districts to be able to mandate face coverings. Several have, despite the administration’s threats of taking away funding and removing officials from office.

“When it comes to masking it schools, this is hardly a settled issue. There is an ongoing debate over whether masks are more harmful than beneficial to children, or in school environments in general. The governor’s executive order recognized this explicitly," said Michael Able, an attorney for the state.

Judge John Cooper told the sides that if they want to reach some kind of an agreement before he rules, they can.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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