Florida is already reporting nearly 500 students in Palm Beach County are quarantining because of Covid exposure. As of Thursday 51 cases are confirmed in the district, 37 are students and 14 are employees. And they’re two days into the school year. Gov. Ron DeSantis remains unswayed to remove his ban on mandating masks across the state.

Earlier, the governor had said he would withhold pay of superintendents and school board members who defy his orders on masks. But today, DeSantis backed off, saying he doesn’t have the authority to do that. Instead, he bizarrely called on school officials who require masks to dock their own pay.

Meanwhile in Tallahassee, a local hospital has reported a child younger than 5 years old has died of COVID-19. Meanwhile four other children are hospitalized at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, reports Florida Politics.

“There’s too many factors. We’re taking too many chances, and it’s not responsible to not require masks, because it’s proven. It’s second best to vaccination.”

Dr. Nectar Aintablian —Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare

It was only yesterday that his education commissioner sent a warning letter to three Florida school districts — Alachua, Broward and Leon County — that are defying the governor’s ban on mask mandates.

All three districts are requiring students, staff and visitors to wear masks inside schools, without an opt-out option for parents. The letter from state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran stated that there is “no room for error or leniency” for compliance. He then explicitly said that those who don’t comply with DeSantis’ executive order could face “sanctions” aimed directly at the wallets of school officials.

Here’s a direct quote from the letter:

“Depending on the facts presented, I may recommend to the State Board of Education that the Department withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for the Superintendent and all the members of the School Board.”

Along with Texas Governor Greg Abbott and South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, the Florida governor is becoming the face of an anti-COVID movement that some say defies logic and common sense — and could prove to be politically disastrous. Abbott refuses to remove his ban on mask and vaccine mandates, even as legal challenges mount and COVID cases climb so high, the governor has requested out-of-state help to deal with the influx of patients.

Noem, meanwhile, gave the OK for the Sturgis motorcycle rally, which could attract as many as 700,000 people, to take place this week.

From the Washington Post:

The three Republican governors — all frequently mentioned as potential presidential candidates in 2024 — are at the vanguard of GOP resistance to public-health mandates aimed at stemming the tide of the delta variant, which has caused a new spike in coronavirus cases as the country attempts to reopen schools, restaurants and other businesses.

They and other national and local GOP officials cast their opposition to such measures as an effort to protect personal choice. But some fear the party is on track to make itself the face of the delta variant — endangering fellow Americans while also risking severe political damage in the long term.

Look at the alarming numbers from Florida, where the state broke its own record for COVID-19 hospitalizations for the 11th consecutive day.

A DeSantis spokesperson defended the governor as being “pro-vaccine but anti-mandate.” But by trying to strong-arm local school districts into following his ban on masks or trying to keep private businesses such as cruise lines from requiring vaccine passports from customers, critics say DeSantis is practicing the same type of intrusive governance Republicans often rail against.

He seems so intent on dismissing COVID as any kind of threat, he denies knowing that state officials requested the federal government send over ventilators to provide to local hospitals. The Biden White House, which has been increasingly critical of DeSantis, said it shipped the ventilators, but DeSantis claims he hasn’t heard anything about it.

DeSantis’ opposition to mask mandates has made him an easy target for his political rivals, like potential 2022 Gubernatorial contender Charlie Crist.

Howard Dean, a former governor and a doctor, predicts that COVID will prove to be DeSantis’ undoing much as it helped cost Trump the White House.

Even staunch Republicans like Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, who is a doctor, have asked GOP governors to let local districts make their own decisions on masks and vaccine mandates. “Whenever politicians mess with public health, usually it doesn’t work out well for public health,” Cassidy said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “And ultimately, it doesn’t work out for the politician, because public health suffers, and the American people want public health.”

Children’s hospitals in parts of the U.S. are being overrun with young patients infected with COVID-19 in record numbers.

The CDC says nearly 1,600 kids were brought to hospitals last week, a nearly 30 percent jump from the previous week. The daily figure of children winding up in the hospital due to COVID has been on the rise since early July and nearly matches the peak numbers from January, the height of the pandemic.

From the New York Times:

These numbers have sparked concerns that what had once seemed like the smallest of silver linings — that Covid-19 mostly spared children — might be changing. Some doctors on the front lines say they are seeing more critically ill children than they have at any previous point of the pandemic and that the highly contagious Delta variant is likely to blame.

It’s too early to tell if the Delta strain poses a greater danger to kids, according to most scientists. But polling like the one shown above indicates more parents support masks in schools — at least for unvaccinated students and staff — than oppose it. But even in the face of this and the data showing more kids being sent to the hospital, DeSantis refuses to budge off his position.

Today, he tried to make the case that Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a much more serious threat to children in Florida than the delta variant of COVID that is spreading like wildfire across the state.

The governor’s claim is directly contradicted by statistics put out by his own health officials.

Here is what the FL Department of Health’s website says with regards to the latest numbers on RSV:

In weeks 29-30, RSV activity in children <5 years old decreased. Levels were above those seen at this time in past years.

During the same period, visits to hospitals and urgent care centers by children dealing with RSV also decreased. There is also the fact that the masks DeSantis opposes so adamantly would work as protection against RSV as well as COVID-19…so why not let schools decide on mask mandates?

It appears DeSantis, much like Abbott in Texas and Noem in South Dakota, are simply unwilling or unable to back off their anti-COVID positions. It’s a risky political gambit that threatens to blow up in their faces, and also the Republican Party, according to former RNC chairman Michael Steele.

“The party leadership has gone so far out on this limb that there they stand with a saw in their hand and they’re sawing it off.”