Signaling that he’ll continue to make Florida’s handling of the pandemic central in his run for governor, Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist on Thursday criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to ease COVID-19 safeguards in schools and called for the removal of the new surgeon general.
“The notion that the leaders at the top of the state on this issue would be saying it’s okay to send kids with COVID into classrooms, it’s unconscionable,” Crist said.
During a virtual news conference, Crist was joined by three parents of children considered at higher risk for a serious case of COVID-19, the attorney representing them, a teacher and a Miami-Dade school board member.
All called out the new Florida Department of Health rule issued Wednesday by Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who DeSantis named this week as the state’s new surgeon general. The rule change allows a student exposed to coronavirus to continue attending school as long as they are not symptomatic, which deviates from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
Crist, who served as Florida governor from 2007 to 2011 and ran unsuccessfully for the job in 2014, also expressed fear that the rule would allow students with coronavirus into school as long as a doctor signed a note.
The rule says symptomatic or COVID-positive students cannot return to school until either they get a negative test and are asymptomatic, 10 days have passed or the student gets a note from a medical doctor, an osteopathic physician or an advanced registered nurse practitioner. That provision is no different than the previous rule.
Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for DeSantis, said the rule clearly states students will stay home if they’re sick.
“What licensed medical professional would write a note to allow a COVID-positive student to go to school?” she wrote in an email. “Surprised to hear Rep. Crist has such a low opinion of Florida’s doctors.”
When asked how he would handle the issue if we were governor, Crist said he, as the son of a physician, has respect for healthcare professionals and would listen to their guidance. In the meantime, he also encouraged the school districts that have opposed the governor on mask mandates to keep pushing.
One lawsuit brought forward by five of those counties dissolved with the implementation of the new rule. A state attorney asked to dismiss the case, saying it was moot. The judge said under state law, he had to agree.
As a candidate for governor, Crist has routinely criticized DeSantis’s decisions, especially those related to the coronavirus. On Thursday, he called him an “oppressive tyrant.”
His main competitor so far in the Democratic primary, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, has also called out DeSantis when it comes to public health. Both have said they support leaving mask rules up to the school districts and have accused DeSantis of not doing enough to promote vaccination.
“Safety is one of the things we’re supposed to cherish,” Crist said. “I only wish the governor and the new surgeon general would do the same.”