School mask mandates have emerged as the latest political battleground in the US with a raft of Republican governors passing laws banning districts from imposing the requirement on local schools.
In recent weeks the delta coronavirus variant has rampaged through the US, especially in states with low vaccination rates.
Last week the American Academy of Paediatrics recommended teachers and all pupils aged two and above wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.
Its recommendations are stricter than those announced earlier this month by the Centres for Disease Control, which said masks should be worn indoors for those who are not fully vaccinated.
Republican governors have ramped up their opposition to masks.
According to a survey by CNN at least nine states – Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Vermont – have passed laws banning the mask mandates.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki criticises DeSantis over school mask mandate
Credit: Oliver Contreras/Sutterstock
And in Florida Ron DeSantis, the state’s governor and potential 2024 presidential candidate, has insisted there will be no mask mandate despite Covid-19 cases surging.
"There’s been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level imposing compulsory masks on kids,” Mr DeSantis said.
We’re not doing that in Florida, OK?" We want kids to be able to be kids. We need them to be able to breathe. It’s terribly uncomfortable for them to do it. There’s not very much science behind it.”
Mr DeSantis is reported to be discussing legislation that would resist any federal mask mandate.
His supporters have argued the state’s vaccination programme and light touch enforcement of restrictions has proved successful in keeping the state open while lowering the mortality rate.
But the latest surge has threatened to overwhelm hospitals in the state having to cancel operations to cope with new Covid-19 cases.
Signs continue to encourage mask wearing and social distancing for the upcoming fall semester despite ventilation improvements at Kelley Lake Elementary School in Decatur, Georgia,
Credit: Erik S Lesser/Shutterstock
His approach was criticised by White House press secretary, Jen Psaki last week.
"If I were a parent in Florida that would be greatly concerning to me, because kids under the age of 12 are not vaccinated," she said.
Ms Psaki added, "That puts kids at risk. It’s not aligned with public health guidelines. We know masks aren’t the most comfortable thing. I will say my kids are quite adjusted to them."
Anthony Fauci, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, supported the paediatricians’ recommendation for universal school masking.
“The American Academy of paediatrics are a thoughtful group. They analyse the situation," he said. "If they think that is the way to go, I think that is a reasonable thing to do.”