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Back to school in the middle of a mask fight
02:58 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Just days after fall classes started for Florida’s Brevard Public Schools and after the school board voted against a mask requirement, there are more than 470 Covid-19 cases among students and teachers and roughly 1,060 people are in quarantine, according to the latest data from the district.

Of the 473 positive cases, roughly 385 are students and 88 are employees, the data shows. The cases are distributed across more than 50 elementary, middle and high schools and account for less than 1% of the district’s total student population, which is around 73,000. Classes began on Tuesday.

Unlike last year, when face masks were required, the Brevard School Board voted 3-2 Tuesday night to make masks optional. The board also chose not to follow in the path of other Florida school districts which implemented mask mandates but gave parents the option to opt their children out of wearing masks in school.

School board member Jennifer Jenkins, who pushed mandating masks again, expressed frustration, saying during Tuesday’s meeting it was “mind-blowing to me that we’re here right now.”

Another school board member, Cheryl McDougall, highlighted that Covid-19 metrics are worse in the community this year than they were last year when masks were required.

“I feel that we need to do anything we possibly can to keep our students safe in school and our teachers and all of our staff. So I don’t understand the logic,” McDougall said. “I’m just struggling here. I don’t understand why we’re here at this point and how difficult this can be to just do what’s right.”

The meeting lasted more than five hours, more than two of which were public comments from residents and parents on both sides of the issue.

One woman, who identified herself as a mother and an ICU nurse, called on the board to require masks despite threats from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office that the state board of education could move to withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who disregard an executive order that effectively prohibits school mask mandates.

The Republican governor issued an executive order in July requiring the state’s health and education departments to create rules that allow parents – not schools – to decide whether their children should wear masks.

Several lawsuits have since been filed challenging the constitutionality of the executive order.

As schools across the state are reopening their doors, Florida has emerged as a Covid-19 hotspot, with new cases surging and hospitalization numbers climbing.

“We are running out of rooms, we are running out of beds,” the ICU nurse told the school board, referencing hospitals which are filling up with Covid-19 patients. “We are flooded with patients that critically ill. They are dying, young.”

Earlier this week, Brevard County officials urged residents to think twice before calling 911, because full emergency rooms are causing a delay in how quickly ambulances are able to drop off patients and then head off to the next call.

“Use 9-1-1 sparingly for non-emergent issues and to save the ambulances and ER trips for those who urgently need those services,” Brevard County Fire Rescue Chief Mark Schollmeyer said in a Monday news release.

John Scott, the county’s emergency director, added that all three hospital systems in the county are “over capacity and continue to deal with a strong surge in patients.”

Brevard is located in east central Florida and home to the John F. Kennedy Space Center. The county has a population of 606,612, according to the 2020 Census.

The school board meeting follows a series of mask debates across the state, where residents have clashed with local leaders about what the safest way forward is for students – many of whom still can’t get a vaccine. Children younger than 12 are ineligible for a Covid-19 shot in the US.

Meanwhile, new case numbers in the state have broken records two weeks in a row.

The state reported more Covid-19 cases over the past week than any other seven-day period in the pandemic, according to the latest date from Florida’s health department. Published on Friday, the data shows roughly 151,415 new Covid-19 cases were reported over the past week for an average of 21,630 cases each day.

The previous record, set just a week earlier, was 134,506 new Covid-19 cases reported over seven days, for an average of 19,215 cases each day, according to state data.

On Friday, Florida became the 23rd state to report that 50% of its residents are fully vaccinated, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CNN’s Virginia Langmaid, Mallory Simon and Elizabeth Stuart contributed to this report.