ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases continue to surge statewide, Central Florida’s largest school district announced days before students return to the classroom that it will require its employees to wear masks.
Orange County Public Schools said it will require masks for its employees starting Friday, one week after an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis was signed that bans mask mandates for students. The governor directed state departments in the executive order to give parents the final say on whether children should wear masks in schools in light of updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the district, this new requirement will last 30 days and require employees to wear masks inside facilities or vehicles and while they are in the presence of another person.
“This extra layer of mitigation will provide some protection to employees and students as we continue to monitor community trends in consultation with medical experts,” Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said in a video update Wednesday.
As employees with the district, including teachers, returned to work this week, only 40% of them have received a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the district. A $200 incentive is being offered for any employee who has proof of vaccination. Visitors, parents and anyone else entering buildings in the school district will be required to wear masks as well. The district is continuing to urge parents to “consider using face masks for their children.”
According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, 45 employees have tested positive since Aug. 2. The dashboard also shows 10 students have tested positive for coronavirus as well.
The move comes after Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced a local state of emergency last week, urging residents and visitors to wear a mask in indoor spaces following the CDC’s updated guidance.
“What that means is this: I will now urge our residents and visitors, vaccinated and unvaccinated to wear a mask when in an indoor space with others. We want our residents, businesses and visitors to follow the updated CDC guidelines to make sure there won’t be another shutdown like we experienced last year,” the mayor said.
Orange County’s school board voted last month to make masks optional, but recent developments in cases have had school districts statewide reevaluate ahead of the school year. There have been at least 270,056 cases of COVID-19 for children under the age of 16 in Florida. The department of health reports seven children under the age of 16 have died from COVID-19 in the state.
The state reached a new record of hospitalizations this week, hitting 11,515 hospitalized patients Tuesday and breaking last year’s record for the third straight day. The governor doubled down Tuesday that the spike in cases and hospitalizations will subside and that he will not impose any business restrictions or mask mandates.
Orange County is not the only district to mandate masks in some capacity. Alachua County Public Schools met this week and decided to require students to wear masks for at least the first two weeks of the school year.
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