Most Bay Area school districts won’t mandate masks this school year

School districts across the Bay Area have voted to make masks optional in schools this fall and, despite surging coronavirus cases, they aren’t reversing their new policies.

Hillsborough, Manatee, Polk, and Sarasota public school officials all say they plan to keep masks optional when school opens back up next month.

Manatee is polling its elementary school parents to find out whether an update should be made to social distancing policies in schools. On Wednesday, Manatee parents of children 11 and under — those who are currently ineligible to receive the vaccine — were asked if they would prefer to see classrooms separated by students and staff who will or won’t be wearing masks.  

The district plans to discuss the idea and the feedback they receive from parents at its next board meeting on Tuesday.

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Pinellas and Pasco school officials have not responded to FOX 13 requests on their mask rules for the next school year.

On Thursday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis weighed in on the topic in Fort Pierce, saying he looks forward to a school year without mask mandates for students.

"There's been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level imposing compulsory masks on kids. We're not doing that in Florida," DeSantis said. "We need them to be able to be kids…there shouldn't be any coercive mandates on our schools."

MORE: DeSantis says there will be no mask mandates in Florida schools

New coronavirus cases are on the rise across the sunshine state. COVID-19 cases nearly doubled last week, topping 45,000.

The rise in new cases is happening across all age groups, including children. Epidemiologists say they’re seeing an 87% increase in cases among children under 12 and an 84% increase in kids and teens ages 12 to 19.

MORE: Florida doctors see 87% increase of COVID-19 cases in kids under 12

Doctors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete have reported record numbers of pediatric patients testing positive for COVID-19 and with it, an uptick in emergency room visits.  

"In our last seven days, we’ve seen more patients [with COVID-19] than any other seven days since the pandemic began," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Perno. "We’re seeing a dramatic increase in kids."

Earlier this month, the CDC issued guidance stating vaccinated students in staff do not need to wear masks inside schools. The agency also said it recommends those unvaccinated, including 11 and under, to continue to mask up in crowded indoor settings like schools.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also announced new recommendations that go further than CDC guidance. The ADA says, because of the transmissibility of the delta virus strain, everyone, regardless of vaccine status, should wear a mask in school.