By CBSMiami.com Team

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has released school district COVID-19 data which she said shows mask mandates worked to slow the spread of coronavirus.

In a virtual press conference Thursday, Fried said the DeSantis’ administration worked to block the release of the data which shows that school districts requiring masks resulted in up to seven times lower COVID-19 cases per capita than school districts that did not require masks. She later corrected that statement to say school districts that required masks were four times lower than schools that did not require them.

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Fried released the data in advance of Thursday’s state Board of Education meeting, which will determine punishment for eleven Florida school districts requiring masks.

According to the data released by Fried’s office, school districts that started the school year with mask requirements (Alachua, Broward, Miami-Dade) saw three times lower student COVID-19 cases per capita compared to districts without mask requirements. She later updated that figure to 2.6 times lower.

School districts without mask requirements had nearly twice as many student COVID-19 cases as school districts requiring masks, according to the data she released.

School districts without mask requirements had nearly 3.5 times higher student COVID-19 peak cases per capita than school districts requiring masks, according to Fried’s date analysis.

“Every way you look at the data, kids were better off in schools requiring masks than those that did not. School districts that did nothing suffered four times higher COVID-19 cases than school districts that required masks, in direct contradiction to the Governor’s disinformation.” said Fried in a statement.

Fried pointed to Highlands County, with no mask requirement, where peak cases per capita (12) were 600 times higher than in masked Miami-Dade and Broward counties (0.02).

In other findings, there were 0.69 peak cases per capita in school districts requiring masks; 0.98 peak cases per capita in school districts with mask parental opt-outs, and 2.90 peak cases per capita in school districts with no mask requirements.

In compiling the data, all of Florida’s 67 school districts were asked if they had publicly accessible COVID-19 data dashboards. Fried said they found 33 school districts had public dashboards that published aggregated case data on a weekly basis for all active weeks of the 2021-22 school year. Those were the dashboards that were used to compile the data, according to Fried.

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Fried said cases per capita were calculated as total cases through the week of September 20 divided by total school district enrollment. Peak cases per capita were calculated as peak week cases divided by total school district enrollment.

Fried is one of several Democrats who is running against Ron DeSantis for the governor’s office in 2022.

After Fried released her findings, Gov. DeSantis’ office pushed back.

“Commissioner Fried is again pandering to conspiracy theorists who believe, without evidence, that “Florida is hiding its COVID-19 data.” In fact, all COVID-19 case data is collected and reported by the Florida Department of Health, which is not Fried’s agency,” said Desantis’ Press Secretary Christina Pushaw in a statement.

She went on to say that Fried’s conclusions were flawed.

“It is interesting that Fried’s “3.5 times fewer cases” claim was the same logically flawed conclusion as the recent CDC study from Arizona; the school dashboard numbers aren’t verified. I understand she claims this is “hidden” Florida data. That is not accurate; it is a misrepresentation of certain Florida data that she cherry picked to reach the same conclusion as the debunked AZ study,” said Pushaw in the statement.

She added that Fried’s communications staffer, Franco Ripple, claims that the “3.5 times” figure was based on data from three school districts in Florida and paints an inaccurate picture for many reasons.

Ripple responded to this claim on Twitter.

In Pushaw’s statement, she claims there are “several serious issues that any epidemiologist would have been able to point out to Commissioner Fried if she had asked.”

  • In the COVID school dashboard data, there is no way of verifying whether an infection was picked up in school or outside of school.
  • There is no adjustment for vaccination rates of different counties.
  • There is no adjustment for previous infection rates in different counties. Counties with higher infection rates last year, like Miami Dade and Broward, would be expected to have more immunity in the population this year, thus lowering transmission.
  • There is no adjustment for community infection rates.
  • Fried differentiates “mask mandates with parental op-outs” from “no mask policy.” These are the same thing; it would make more sense to compare “mask optional” to “mask mandate” schools.
  • Fried calculates the percentage of students infected per district in each category, then averaged the percentages, which disproportionately weights districts with small populations.
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Pushaw added Department of Health data on pediatric case rates in different counties shows no significant difference between forced masking and mask optional districts on pediatric cases across counties.

CBSMiami.com Team