MIAMI (CBSMiami/NSF) — A statewide group of pediatricians Thursday called for “universal” use of masks in schools as the academic year gets ready to start and as Florida deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics supports the continued, universal use of masks and physical distancing in schools by all individuals including students, faculty members and staff through the end of the 2021-2022 school year,” the organization said in a prepared statement. “Masking should be in addition to the continuation of testing protocols in schools to mitigate the spread of infection. Finally, and most importantly, FCAAP recommends that all vaccine eligible children, faculty and staff in schools should be vaccinated.”

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The statement came as school districts grapple with mask issues and as Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly criticized the idea of requiring students to wear face coverings.

On Friday morning, DeSantis held a news conference in Cape Coral and said he will sign an executive order to issue emergency rules for “protecting the rights of parents,” making face masks optional across the state in schools and leaving it up to parents.

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The pediatricians’ statement said children under age 12 remain ineligible for vaccinations and that most children are at risk of infection and transmitting the virus to other people.

The number of cases in Florida has surged in recent weeks as the delta variant of the coronavirus has spread through the state.

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CBSMiami.com Team