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Florida Dept. of Education doubles down on optional face masks for next school year

The Department says its data showed no difference in transmission between schools with mask mandates and those with optional mask policies.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With COVID-19 cases trending in the wrong direction, health experts are urging people to get vaccinated. 

The CDC says if you're not fully vaccinated, you should still wear a face-covering indoors.

However, the Florida Department of Education is doubling down on its push for optional face masks in schools for the 2021-2022 school year.

Right now, every school district around Tampa Bay is adopting an optional face mask policy for the upcoming school year.

RELATED: Here's where Tampa Bay area schools stand on face masks for next year

The Florida Department of Education is pushing for students to have a choice and provided data comparing the number of COVID cases in the 40 school districts with mask mandates last year versus the 27 districts where masks were optional. There was no difference in transmission rates.

RELATED: USF professor says the Dept. of Education's conclusion that mask 'policies do not impact the spread of the virus' is disingenuous

We took the data from the Department of Education to Dr. Jill Roberts, a molecular epidemiologist at USF with a specialty in emerging diseases.

"One of the major issues I have with the data provided is there’s not that much data," said Dr. Roberts.

She says we would have needed to randomly test kids regularly to pick up all COVID cases. She also says optional policies don't provide concrete data either.

"If a mask policy is optional, that doesn't tell you how many people were wearing masks and who wasn't," added Roberts.

In March, the CDC issued a report showing schools in Florida were not the primary source of spread among youth. Kids were more likely to catch COVID outside of school. Earlier this month, the CDC said masks should be optional for vaccinated students and staff.

Dr. Roberts disagrees with the CDC's guidance because we don't have any data on the rate of transmission of the delta variant in schools and with many Florida districts doing away with virtual options, Roberts says social distancing will be harder to implement.

She said, "The situation in schools is going to be nothing like last semester."

Earlier this week the American Academy of Pediatrics deviated from the CDC by recommending face masks for all students regardless of vaccination status.

Part of their reasoning was because the majority of students will be unvaccinated to start the school year due to age eligibility. Right now only people age 12 and older are authorized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

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