Polk doctor recommends mask mandate at schools, superintendent ‘frustrated’ at the situation

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A prominent Polk County doctor is calling on school boards to pass mask mandates despite an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis banning mask mandates.

“When you know what you should be doing but you’re not allowed to, I suppose that puts you in a difficult spot,” said Dr. Steven Achinger, the managing partner at Watson Clinic.

Dr. Achinger, who participated in an emotional press conference Thursday pleading with people to take the rising COVID-19 cases seriously and get vaccinated, said the risk has never been higher to be infected.

“I think that the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the schools is for the children to be wearing masks,” said Achinger. “You’re going to have a safer school environment and a more successful school environment if you require your schools to wear masks.”

Public health officials said case numbers reached new heights this week in Polk County, with daily counts nearing 1,000.

On Thursday, Lakeland Regional Health was treating 275 patients with COVID-19.

Achinger said up to 15% of the people who test positive at Watson Clinic are under the age of 12, and therefore ineligible for the vaccine.

He said science shows masks protect them and the people around them.

“I don’t think there’s any support for a non-masking policy indoors, scientifically speaking,” he said.

“We don’t have the authority right now to mandate masks,” said Polk County’s new superintendent, Fred Heid.

He said the district has no plans to defy the governor’s mask mandate ban, like others are doing.

“I think a lot of superintendents, including myself, I think we’re all frustrated at the timing and the situation we find ourselves in,” he said.

Spessard Holland Elementary School had to close this week due to a COVID outbreak involving at least eight staff members. School has not started yet.

“I think our best advocacy right now would be, quite honestly, to focus on a remote learning option,” Heid said.

He says he thinks there could be an opening to allow for remote learning after the state laid out new guidelines for quarantined students Friday.

“Today’s rule seemingly opens that back up for discussion. That’s why I said we’re going to have to do a little more digging and seek clarification on that,” he said.

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