Quarantine for students exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 is now optional in the state of Florida after the newly appointed surgeon general issued an emergency rule that the DeSantis administration hopes will keep schools open.
The new rule overrides a previous order that required healthy students to quarantine at home for at least four days if they were exposed to someone who tested tested positive for the virus, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The old rule required that students exposed to a COVID-19 positive individual quarantine for at least four days and get a negative virus test result before returning to school, or quarantine for seven days without a test.
Now, as long as their children are asymptomatic, parents can choose to send them to school for in-person instruction. If they feel that their children might be at risk of contracting COVID-19 or spreading it to others, they can also choose to keep them at home.
The order, signed by Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who was appointed to lead the Florida Department of Health by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, states that the change in policy was necessary “in light of the unnecessary exclusion of healthy students from in-person learning and the urgent need to provide updated COVID-19 guidance to school districts.”
Ladapo is a former UCLA professor who holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D. in Health Policy from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
“He has had both a remarkable academic and medical career with a strong emphasis in health policy research,” DeSantis said in a statement announcing Ladapo’s appointment as Florida surgeon general on Tuesday.
Despite Ladapo’s qualifications, DeSantis’ political opponents have criticized the doctor as an “anti-masker and vaccine skeptic” because he wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal last month raising concerns over the “unintended consequences” of mask mandates.
In a statement to The Hill, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said, “Like Governor DeSantis, Dr. Ladapo is not against vaccines or masks — he is against vaccine mandates and forced-masking.”
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Ladapo told reporters that Florida will “completely reject fear as a way of making policies.”
“We must make health policy decisions rooted in data and not in fear,” Ladapo said in a statement. “From California, I have observed the different approaches taken by governors across the country and I have been impressed by Governor DeSantis’ leadership and determination to ensure that Floridians are afforded all opportunities to maintain their health and wellness, while preserving their freedoms as Americans. It is a privilege to join his team and serve the people of Florida.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine if they do not present COVID-19 symptoms. The CDC says that unvaccinated individuals should quarantine for 14 days if exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. No vaccine has been approved for emergency use for children under the age of 12.