Education Secretary Miguel Cardona issued a plea on Sunday to politicians making it harder to control the pandemic while two Republicans called for local officials to make decisions regarding masks in schools amid the fallout over state bans on masks as Covid-19 cases continue to rise.
“We want our youth to get vaccinated. Listen, and to those who are making policies that are preventing this, don’t be the reason why schools are interrupted, why children can’t go to extracurricular activities, why games are canceled. We need to do our parts as leaders,” Cardona told CBS’ John Dickerson on “Face The Nation.”
His message comes days after he warned Americans to not let politicizing of mask wearing interfere with schools reopening safely and remaining open without disruption. It also comes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, banned local school districts from imposing mask mandates. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, has banned public schools from requiring masks.
Florida reported 134,506 new Covid-19 cases over the past week – more than any other 7-day period during the pandemic, according to data published Friday by the state’s health department. And though the state accounts for fewer than 7% of the US population, about 1 in 5 Covid-19 cases nationwide have been reported in Florida over the past couple of weeks.
The state is also leading the nation in the number of adults and children admitted to hospitals with Covid-19, according to data published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A third of all US coronavirus cases in the previous week came from Florida and Texas, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in a Covid-19 briefing on Monday.
Both Abbott and DeSantis are facing criticism over the bans from public health experts, Democrats and even Republicans, including Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, who told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday “the local official should have control here.”
“I don’t want top down from Washington, DC. I don’t want top down from a governor’s office,” Cassidy, who is also a physician said on “State of the Union” when asked if he disagreed with the order from DeSantis. “When it comes to local conditions, if my hospital is full and my vaccination rate is low and infection rate is going crazy, we should allow local officials to make those decisions best for their community.”
Cardona said he had calls out to many governors, including Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, who regrets signing the law that banned school districts from implementing mask mandates and admitted on Sunday that “it was an error” to do so. On Friday, an Arkansas judge temporarily blocked the legislation in response to both school districts and parents.
“Facts change, and leaders have to adjust to the new facts – and the reality of what you have to deal with,” Hutchinson said during a separate interview with CBS when asked why he changed his position.
Cardona conceded that he understood Americans having mask fatigue after the last year, but said making masks mandatory in schools is, “bigger than us.”
CNN’s Devan Cole, Camille Furst, Dakin Andone and Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.