(The Center Square) — Play ball. Or, at least, let the kids out of the house.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday lifted all state restrictions on youth activities effective immediately, allowing local governments and parents to decide whether children can resume playing organized sports and attend summer camps.
“I hope that this will be good for folks over the summer. I really trust parents. I trust the physicians who work with the kids, the local leaders, coaches, camps,” DeSantis said. “We trust parents to be able to make decisions” and determine whether they can resume “these activities in a way that is safe.”
DeSantis said he’d lift the April 1 order suspending youth activities with little state guidance, noting, “We are not going to be instituting a lot of rules or really any rules.”
He said the Florida Department of Health (DOH) will post “best practices,” likely including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's standard social distancing protocols.
DeSantis said local governments still can impose their own conditions on youth sports, activities and summer camps, even if they sustain the ban.
“I’m not pre-empting (local governments) from being able to do anything,” said DeSantis said, who also said county and city leaders should prioritize ways to say “yes” to getting children out of homes and into activities.
“I just think that I’ve seen other jurisdictions, other states, do like 100 rules for, like, how to pick up a tennis ball,” he said. “When you do that and you overcook it, you end up getting less compliance because people just throw up their hands and say, ‘This is ridiculous.’ ”
DeSantis said with children essentially housebound since schools were shut down in March, they’ve had little social engagement and few opportunities to exercise and play.
That is not healthy for children, said the governor, a 41-year-old father of three, including a girl born in March. They are the first preschoolers to live in the Governor's Mansion since 1971.
Dr. Bonnie White, a Ponte Vedra Beach pediatrician who is the primary physician for DeSantis’ children, encouraged parents to allow their kids to go outside and play with other kids, saying she and other pediatricians have seen increased anxiety among youngsters, which she attributed to being forced to stay indoors.
“It’s time for our kids to get back to their new normal, and it’s time to let kids be kids,” she said.
White said parents should “set an example” by following social distancing and safety protocols and ensuring children are current on immunization schedules.
“With this big fear, lots of patients have decided not to come into the office, so lots of kids are getting behind on their vaccines,” she said. ”We’re fearful that measles is going to come back.”
DeSantis cited statistics that indicate children are not as vulnerable to COVID-19 as those over age 65 and older or those who have compromising medical conditions.
“We, in the state of Florida, have observed zero fatalities under the age of 25,” he said. “I think the data is pretty clear: kids don’t seem to get infected at the same rates that adults get infected.”
While the disease may not affect children the way it does others, children can be contagious and spread it to those most vulnerable.
“I think it was pretty clear that kids were less likely to suffer serious clinical outcomes from this than elderly were. It really wasn’t known what roll kids would play,” DeSantis said.
The governor said maintaining CDC and DOH guidelines in protecting those most vulnerable is the key to getting children out of the house and the state’s economy off the mat.