TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed Florida’s ongoing rise of COVID-19 cases on Thursday at a bill signing as recent reports from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Florida is home to 20% of all current COVID-19 cases.

While talking about a return to in-person teaching, the governor said he was excited for a normal school year. When asked about mask mandates and local restrictions, which have already been banned through a recent law, DeSantis shot down the notion of anyone making parents put masks on their kids across the state.

“There’s been talk about potentially people advocating for people at the federal level imposing masks on kids. We’re not doing that in Florida, OK, we need our kids to breathe,” DeSantis said. “We need our kids to be able to be kids, to be able to breathe – it’s terribly uncomfortable for them to do it, there’s not very much science behind it.”

While the governor says previous protocols for masks were not meaningfully effective, health leaders across the political spectrum say that we have all of the tools to beat the virus, but people need to use them.

Florida doctors have warned about the delta variant’s spread, as health care advocates urge state leaders to do more to fight off the pandemic.

“Think about all of the children in our communities that cannot have vaccines because there is not a vaccine approved for them yet,” Dr. Mona Mangat, who runs two clinics in St. Petersburg, told 8 On Your Side this week. “Think about all the people with high-risk diseases that either make vaccines ineffective or they are unable to receive vaccines.”

With the delta variant spreading more quickly than other versions of COVID-19, Dr. Doug Ross from AdventHealth told 8 On Your Side’s Jeff Patterson that the bulk of patients they’re seeing are unvaccinated.

“The vast majority of them are unvaccinated, about 94 percent of them are unvaccinated,” said Ross.

DeSantis said that between schools that did and did not have mask rules in effect, the difference between outcomes was not “meaningfully different.” The governor went further, saying that parents were free to mask their children on their own initiative but that he was not supportive of “coercive mandates” on Florida schools.

The governor mentioned a push to federally impose mask restrictions across the country, and that he and House Speaker Chris Sprowls were ready to hold a special legislative session to address it. DeSantis went on to take shots at Dr. Anthony Fauci, referring to restrictions and masks as muzzles for students.

“At the end of the day, we gotta start putting our kids first. We’ve gotta look out for their education, is it really comfortable, is it really healthy for them to be muzzled and have their breathing obstructed all day long in school?” DeSantis said. “I don’t think it is. And I look to think, I have a 3-year-old son, and you’ve got people like Fauci saying he should be muzzled, that you should be throwing masks at these 3-year-old kids. It’s totally unacceptable.”

The governor continued, saying that the state government will not have mandates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, telling anyone calling for lockdowns, “you’re not getting that done in Florida.” He went further, promising to protect Florida residents’ “livelihoods, kids’ rights to go to school, people’s rights to run their small businesses,” while praising vaccine efficacy but criticizing physicians advocating for lockdowns when “it doesn’t affect them.”

Still, CDC data shows that on July 21 alone, 12,647 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Florida.

The Florida Department of Health switched to weekly reports on COVID-19 in June. The most recent update, released last Friday, showed 45,603 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Florida from July 9 to July 15 – nearly double the amount reported over the previous week.

Based on early numbers reported from the CDC’s daily tracker, the end-of-week total coming from DOH today is likely to show even more cases.

DateReported New Cases in Florida
July 16, 20218,490
July 17, 20218,010
July 18, 20218,010
July 19, 20218,012
July 20, 20218,988
July 21, 20211,2647
(Source: CDC)

University of South Florida Health epidemiologist Dr. Jason Salemi told WFLA’s Justin Schecker he believes the new report will show between 60,000 to 70,000 new cases.

“Even if we vaccinate 4 million people today they wouldn’t be fully protected for five to six weeks. Look at the damage the delta variant has done in the past three to four weeks,” Salemi said. “Increasing vaccination alone isn’t good enough. We must implement other preventive measures to slow the spread.”