A letter from doctors to Gov. DeSantis as schools open | Column
Dozens of doctors plead with the governor to do three things as the new school year starts.
Pinellas County Schools superintendent Michael Grego discusses the district’s reopening plan with members of the Pinellas County School Board during a public Board Workshop on Monday at the Pinellas County School Board offices in Largo.
Pinellas County Schools superintendent Michael Grego discusses the district’s reopening plan with members of the Pinellas County School Board during a public Board Workshop on Monday at the Pinellas County School Board offices in Largo. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 9, 2021|Updated Aug. 9, 2021

Physicians across Florida are concerned about Florida’s children and their risk of COVID-19 infections. As the virus burns through Florida, health care providers feel we are fighting this fire without any leadership from Gov. Ron DeSantis. Blocking communities from making local decisions to protect themselves with his top-down, one-size-fits-all edict will only make matters worse.

His executive order prohibiting local school districts from implementing COVID-19 safeguards exposes every child to a virus that is deadlier than the flu, as contagious as smallpox and preventable with two basic mitigation measures: mask use and vaccinations. The governor has effectively ruled out the former, and done too little to stress the latter for students. With schools resuming and children returning to classrooms, Gov. DeSantis’ strategy puts people at risk, including children.

This past week, COVID-19 has infected more than 19,000 Floridians every day, the worst weekly infection rate since the pandemic began, and hospitalized an average of 1,800 Floridians daily. In the last week of July, at least 35 children were hospitalized every day for COVID-19 in Florida, a number that is very likely an undercount since Gov. DeSantis stopped sharing COVID-19 statistics in a timely fashion.

Only about half of Florida’s population has been fully vaccinated. At the same time, COVID-19 vaccinations are authorized for use only in people ages 12 and older — meaning 120,000 pre-K- to fifth-graders in the Tampa Bay area can’t be vaccinated.

To protect the health of vulnerable Floridians, we are calling on Gov. DeSantis to do three things immediately.

One, Gov. DeSantis should repeal his reckless executive order and allow and encourage local school districts to implement safeguards such as mask-wearing that can minimize COVID-19 spread.

Two, his administration must resume reporting COVID-19 daily data in full.

And three, Gov. DeSantis must do much more to get vaccinations in people’s arms.

Gov. DeSantis should strongly encourage every eligible Floridian to get vaccinated and make vaccinations easier, including in local schools.

Shots in arms are only part of an effective safety strategy. For children ineligible for a vaccine, the only protection they have against COVID-19 is for them to wear a mask, and for those around them to do the same. As physicians, we agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that all schools have students, staff and teachers wear masks, which scientific evidence shows reduces COVID-19 spread.

What’s heartbreaking and infuriating for us as doctors is watching children needlessly suffer while Gov. DeSantis rejects simple protections such as masks and vaccinations.

Asking local schools and jurisdictions to look the other way while COVID-19 tears through our communities, or lose funding if they implement safeguards, won’t protect kids. Waving the flag of personal choice, as Gov. DeSantis does, even as those choices endanger the lives of others, only robs millions of Floridians of the freedom to eat out, be with their loved ones and, yes, learn in schools safely.

Enough is enough. Florida needs to mask up, get vaccinated and have a governor willing to lead.

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Mona Mangat, MD, Allergy/Immunology (Saint Petersburg). Past national board chairperson, Doctors for America (DFA), board member, Committee to Protect Medicare (CTP)

Bernard Ashby, MD, CTP Florida state lead, Cardiology (Miami)

Paula Abrahao, MD, Internal Medicine/Pediatrics (Melbourne Beach)

David Acosta, MD, Anesthesiologist (Miami Beach)

Tolu Adebanjo, MD, Pediatrics (Orlando)

Puja Aggarwal, MD, Neurology (Orlando)

Leonardo Alonso, MD, Emergency Medicine (Jacksonville)

Robert Anderson, MD, Radiology (Titusville)

Victoria Array, MD, Pediatrics (Ponte Vedra)

Aparna Asher Nayegandhi, MD, Family Practice (Clearwater)

Reza Azar, MD, Cardiologist (Miami)

Neil Bajwa, MD, Gastroenterologist (Saint Petersburg)

Denisse Balcacer, MD, Infectious disease (Safety Harbor)

Ankush Bansal, MD, Internal Medicine (Delray Beach)

Marguerite Barnett, MD, Surgery (Sarasota)

Audrey Bauer, MD, General Surgery (Gulf Breeze)

Robert Baylis, MD, Orthopedic Surgery (Plantation)

David Berman, DO, Pediatric Infectious Diseases (Saint Petersburg)

Mark Birnbaum, MD, Orthopedics (Orlando)

Allan Bloom, MD, Internal Medicine (Lighthouse Point)

Stephen Blythe, MD, Family Practice (Melbourne)

Eduardo Borges, MD, Neurology (Port St. Lucie)

Jeanie Branconi, MD, Family Medicine (Apollo Beach)

Raviender Bukkapatnam, MD, Urology (Tampa)

Martin Canillas, MD, Family Medicine (Lutz)

William Carter, MD, Plastic surgery (Tampa)

Evan Chambers, MD, Radiology (Lakeland)

Dorianne Colon, MD, Pediatrics (Orlando)

Marguerite Crawford, MD, Pediatric Cardiology (Saint Petersburg)

Morton Davidson, MD, Internal Medicine (Palm Beach Gardens)

Jennifer Davis, MD, Pediatric Critical Care (Fort Lauderdale)

Maria DeCastro, DO, Neurology (Tampa)

Sree Degala, MD, Radiology (Tampa)

Jean Delbrune, MD, Neuro Interventional Radiology (Saint Petersburg)

Whitney Delozier, MD, Dermatology (Saint Petersburg)

Sejal Desai, MD, Opthalmology (Tampa)

Tracé Dotson, DO, Emergency Medicine (Windermere)

Sara Downs, DO, Internal Medicine (Saint Petersburg)

Jaime Estrada, MD, Pediatrics (Davie)

Jay Falk, MD, Emergency Medicine (Orlando)

Maher Fanous, MD, Ophthalmology (Gainesville)

Richard D. Farber, MD, radiology (Palm Beach Gardens)

Jason Fields, MD, Addiction Medicine (Saint Petersburg)

Nicole Figueredo, MD, General surgery (Tampa)

Stephanie Gardner, MD, Dermatologist (Ft Myers)

Sudeep Gaudi, MD, Pathology (Wesley Chapel)

Jami Gibson, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine (Tampa)

Lisa Gonzalez-Abello, MD, Pediatrician (Sarasota)

David Goodman, MD, Dermatology and Mohs Surgery (Naples)

Amparo Gutierrez, MD, Neurology (Orlando)

Michael Haller, MD, Pediatrics (Gainesville)

Chris Hamann, MD, Emergency Medicine (Jacksonville)

Eloise Harman, MD, Pulmonary Critical Care (Gainesville)

Jamie Hild, MD, Hematology oncology (Orlando)

Yves Homsy, MD, Pediatric Urology (Tampa)

Russ Hostetler, MD, Family Medicine (Tampa)

Leah Ishmael, MD, Allergy/Immunology (Tampa)

Crystal Jacovino, MD, Internal Medicine/Endocrinology (Tampa)

Saulius Jankauskas, MD, Plastic Surgery (Longwood)

Julia Jenkins, MD, Family Medicine (Palm Harbor)

Kenneth Jones, MD, Surgery (Jacksonville)

Shirley Jones, MD, Family Medicine (Jacksonville)

Regina Kaufmann, MD, Ob/Gyn (Melbourne)

Julie Kessel, MD, Psychiatry (Saint Petersburg)

James Kirk, DO, Neonatology (Jacksonville)

Melissa Krantzow, MD, Pediatrics (Boca Raton)

Yuvraj Kumbkarni, MD, Endocrinology (Tampa)

Bernier Lauredan, MD, Medical management (Port St. Lucie)

Sandra Lawrence, MD, Pediatric Rheumatology (Boca Raton)

Donald Levin, MD, Psychiatry (Palm Beach Gardens)

Jenny Lichon, DO, OB-GYN (Sarasota)

Maliena Longley, MD, Pediatrics, Allergy/immunology (Tampa)

Stefanie Lord, MD, Internal Medicine (Gainesville)

Alexandra Mannix, MD, Emergency Medicine (Jacksonville)

Linda Marraccini, MD, FP (Miami)

Monal Mathur, MD, Emergency Medicine (Tampa)

Chris Mattey, MD, Family medicine (Oldsmar)

Alan Maurer, MD, Pediatrician (Osprey)

Stephen Mayper, MD, Internal Medicine & Pediatrics (Tampa)

Edgar Mercado, MD, Critical Care (Tampa)

Suzie Minor, MD, Family Medicine (Miramar)

Ashok Mittal, MD, Pulmonary Medicine (Pinellas Park)

Erica Montecalvo, MD, Internal Medicine (Pembroke Pines)

Rashmi Murthy, MD, Family Medicine (Miami)

My Myers, MD, EST (Saint Petersburg)

Sami Nallamshetty, MD, Allergy/Immunology (Tampa)

Ronica Nanda, MD, Radiation Oncology (Tampa)

Priya Nayyar, MD, Dermatology (Saint Petersburg)

Charlotte O’Leary, MD, Hospitalist (Tampa)

Elizabeth Oteiza, MD, Ophthalmology (Boynton Beach)

Yanet Pantaleon, MD, Pathology (St. Augustine)

Shlomo Pascal, MD, Psychiatry (Pembroke Pines)

Sonal Patel, MD, Internal Medicine (Lutz)

Harpreet Patheja, MD, Internal Medicine (Tampa)

Ruth Pereira, MD, Pediatric Infectious Disease (Tampa)

Jennifer Porter, MD, OB/GYN (Jacksonville)

Neelesh Prakash, MD, Radiology (Tampa)

Amy Prakash, MD, Dermatology/Dermatopathology (Tampa)

Ivonne Reynolds, DO, OB-GYN (Parkland)

Ario Rezaei, MD, Interventional Radiology (Jacksonville)

Fred Romano, DO, Emergency Medicine (Sarasota)

Elicia Roos, DO, Family Medicine (Jacksonville)

Steve Rosenberg, MD, Medicine (Palm Beach)

Armando Ruiz, MD, Radiology/Neuroradiology (Miami)

Jennifer Russell, MD, OB-GYN (Tampa)

Tara Saco, MD, Allergy/Immunology (Sarasota and Tampa)

Christian Salazar, MD, Director (Tampa)

Rima Sanka, DO, A/I (Tampa)

Steven Schneider, MD, Interventional Radiology (Pompano Beach)

Kenneth Sekine, MD, Gynecology (Jacksonville)

Mona Shah, MD, General preventive medicine and public health (Tampa)

Anjan Shah, MD, Orthopaedics (Tampa)

Julie Shamas, MD, Emergency medicine (Saint Petersburg)

Mark Shank, DO, Emergency (Sarasota)

Shikha Sharma, MD, Internal Medicine (Tampa)

Dave Siebert, MD, Internal Medicine (Jacksonville)

Ashley Siems, MD, Pediatric Critical Care Medicine (Saint Petersburg)

Greg Silver, MD, Family Medicine (Palm Harbor)

Caren Singer, MD, Internal Medicine (Fort Lauderdale)

Shaila Siraj, MD, Pediatrics (Saint Petersburg)

Anthony Sochet, MD, Pediatric Critical Care Medicine (Saint Petersburg)

Sarah Somer, MD, OBGYN (Sarasota)

Frederick Southwick, MD, Infectious Diseases (Gainesville)

Nancy Staats, MD, Anesthesiology (Jacksonville)

Kasey Statum, MD, Pediatrics (Lakeland)

Stacey Stout, MD, Pediatrics (Lake Worth)

Robin Straus, MD, Pediatrics (Miami)

Rachel Tate, MD, Rheumatology (West Palm Beach)

Beatriz Teppa, MD, Pediatric Critical Care (Saint Petersburg)

Pamela Trapane, MD, Medical Genetics and Pediatrics (Jacksonville)

Maria Valente, MD, Hematology/Oncology (Jacksonville)

Andre Vasu, MD, Retired heart surgeon (Punta Gorda)

Neal Verma, MD, Family medicine (Middleburg)

Stuart Wanuck, MD, Urology (Palm Beach Gardens)

Douglas Weiland, MD, Ortho (Clearwater)

Janet West, MD, Family medicine (Jacksonville)

James Williams, MD, Surgery (Saint Petersburg)

Melba Wright, MD, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Jacksonville)

Xiaomei Zeng, MD, Obgyn (Boca Raton)

Maria R Zequeira, MD, internal Medicine / Hospitalist (West Palm Beach)

Bhumi Upadhyay, MD , Pediatrics (St. Petersburg)