MIAMI, FL — When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis traveled to the state’s epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak Tuesday he was hoping to have an honest exchange with local mayors in Miami-Dade County about the ongoing surge in cases of the deadly virus.
The mayors were more than willing to share their thoughts on the virus and even how the virus affected their own families.
“I have young children like you do. My wife is probably not going to put our 2-year -old in preschool,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez shared with the state’s top executive. “She was showing me desks that she was thinking of buying for my son’s room, so he could learn virtually.”
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Suarez, who was one of the first elected officials in the United States to contract the coronavirus and recover, suggested the state should have a long-term plan with predefined criteria as to when to shut down and reopen businesses.
“We have somewhere between one week and four weeks to get this thing under control,” Suarez said. “Otherwise, we’re going to have to take some very dramatic measures here.”
DeSantis, who wore a mask while he was speaking, said the surge is not the same everywhere in the state.
“We are seeing probably numbers that are more manageable in most other parts of the state” the governor acknowledged. “We have a situation now where people are apprehensive. People are hurting. This virus has affected every Floridian’s life in one way or another. Obviously, most have not been affected. Many may not even know anyone whose been affected.”
All of the mayors DeSantis met with were concerned about the reopening of school next month in Florida.
Florida’s Commissioner of Education last week ordered all brick and mortar schools to reopen in August, but also gave school districts flexibility to use what officials described as “innovative teaching methods” to educate children.
DeSantis insisted school-age kids are at a lower risk for the virus than other groups. He has said he would not hesitate to send his own three young children to school if they were old enough
“I don’t think we should try to scare parents, and act like somehow this is more of a threat to their kids than it actually is,” DeSantis told the mayors. “It’s a serious pathogen overall, but for whatever reason, the kids are at lower risk.”
DeSantis noted day care providers were never ordered to close in Florida, yet there were no incidents involving children getting infected at such facilities.
Nevertheless, he said he supports the right of parents to choose an appropriate type of education for their children.
“I’ve been very clear in Florida, under the circumstances, every parent has the option to make these decisions, and no parent should be forced,” DeSantis said. “They have to make decisions about what they think would be a good environment for the student. And, if virtual is the decision, then they have every right to do that.”
Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert agreed every parent should be able to make their own choice of whether to send their children into brick and mortar schools. He said the conversation would be very different if even one Florida child contracts the disease during the school year and dies.
“It’s very difficult as a parent,” Gilbert confided. “As a parent, I really want my son to be back in school, and he really wants to be back in school. I think all parents want their kids back in school. The question is how do we send them there [with] this thing there that we can’t see? The chances are low, but it could affect him.”
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber recommended that DeSantis impose a statewide mask requirement to show the importance of taking proper precautions.
“My wife urges me to exercise more and watch what I eat,” he said. “She’s failing in both those regards.”
A former federal prosecutor, Gelber has one child in high school and two college-age daughters. He said the act of opening up schools might send a misleading message that schools are safe when that is not entirely known at this time.
“I don’t even want to talk about universities,” Gelber said. “There is no question in my mind …. college campuses I think, are going to be unconstrained in terms of the spread. I don’t see how anyone gets their arms around that because it’s a cohort that literally doesn’t listen almost instinctively to us. At least I have found that experience in my home.”
Mayor Gabriel Groisman of Bal Harbour, who has four daughters of his own, said his community is split on the issue of returning to school.
“I think the most important thing that applies to every student in this state is that no student will do well in any scenario, where they have to go to school, and then if there’s one infection, then they have to go home for two weeks, and they have to go back and forth,” Groisman said. “I firmly believe we need to come up with a predictable plan which will work under any scenario.”
Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez said his wife is a special needs teacher at a Miami-Dade elementary school.
“We have our youngest —our 10-year-old daughter — is a regular student at her school in the Dade County public school system,” Bermudez said. “There’s no doubt that for the younger kids, that learning in person — all the studies have shown — is probably preferable.”
Even so, he said, most parents favor a hybrid model, which will allow them to choose between classroom instruction or online learning.
“There’s great concern by some of the parents that if their children were to go to school —whether the science says it or not — there are people that are afraid to send their children to school, and probably prefer a hybrid option at the very least,” Bermudez said. “Maybe your wife is a teacher and she gets it from somebody else — maybe the janitor, or the principal.”
This article originally appeared on the Miami Patch