State concludes defense in school mask mandate ban lawsuit trial


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA/Cap News) – The state concluded its defense of its mask opt-out requirement in schools before a circuit court judge Wednesday. 

The state called parents who testified masks have negatively impacted their children and a Stanford professor who has questioned the effectiveness of masks throughout the pandemic.

Parents called by the state said they have children with medical conditions that made learning difficult wearing a mask. 

Ashley Benton, the mother of a fifth-grader with Childhood Apraxia, said her daughter experienced extreme discomfort while wearing a mask.

“When there were mask mandates here in Leon County we did try to comply with them and I just couldn’t take her anywhere,” said Benton.

She also said she had difficulty obtaining a medical exemption.

“She was not going to sign any forms at all,” said Benton, recalling her visit with her pediatrician.

But at the heart of the state’s case is Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who has maintained since early in the pandemic there is little quality evidence to support masking in schools.

“The observational evidence, such that there is, in schools in Florida and elsewhere suggests that mask districts did no better than unmasked districts,” said Bhattacharya.

He also questioned the rationale behind why the delta variant would change the calculation on masking.

“It’s really unclear why one would expect that it would have any different effect on a more transmissible variant like the delta variant,” said Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharya also testified studies conducted prior to the pandemic found potential harm if younger children don’t see faces.

“On the basis of this, The World Health Organization recommends against masking very young children,” said Bhattacharya.

The CDC reports 385 pediatric COVID deaths since the part of the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic in Florida, there have been 23 pediatric deaths with eight of those deaths, or roughly 35 percent reported since the start of August.

“What’s an acceptable death rate in your opinion for children?” Asked Charles Gallagher, who is representing the parents suing the state.

“I mean I reject the premise of the question. The question is not what’s an acceptable death rate. The question is what are the tradeoffs implicit,” said Bhattacharya.

When presented with studies that suggest masks are effective the doctor’s opinion didn’t waver.  The judge is set to rule on the case Thursday.

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