Wearing a face mask in public settings has become a contentious issue in some parts of the country. Masks are still required on public transportation and in most schools, but some parents and individuals would rather opt out.
An ER doctor was recently fired from Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee, FL for charging his patients $50 for a letter saying they cannot wear a face mask for health reasons. Screenshots of the letters quickly went viral, setting off a mix of reactions online.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, the trouble started when Dr. Brian Warden posted on a popular anti-mask website, offering to write exemption letters to school mask mandates for students. He then posted a follow-up message, saying he would charge $50 per note.
After screenshots of the letters were circulated online, many people started calling for him to be fired.
Hospital CEO Alan Keesee held a vote with board members during a regularly scheduled meeting to see whether Warden should be allowed to keep his position. The board voted to let him go.
CRMC spokeswoman Rachel Stiles commented on the hospital’s decision: “We act with absolute integrity in all that we do, and it is our expectation that providers behave in a way that is consistent with those values. Immediately upon learning of this physician’s actions, we began the process of removing him from providing services to our hospital patients.”
Warden also advertised the mask opt-out letters to parents on his personal Facebook page, writing that he was offering the letters as a licensed medical provider and not in affiliation with any hospital. Records show he also formed an LLC in July called Dove Field Health.
The Debate Over School Mask Mandates
Warden’s ousting came just a day after school districts in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, issued their own mask mandates.
Superintendent Rocky Hanna said all students in grades K-8 must wear a face mask while in school unless they have a medical excuse. The Leon County School Board voted 3-2 in favor of the mandate.
However, some states have outright banned school mask mandates, including Texas and Florida. Schools that issue their own mask mandates may be in danger of losing federal funding from the Department of Education, which is allocated by the states. So far, over half of all students in Florida still go to school with masks in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s order.
The Tallahassee area has seen a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks. Leon County Schools serves around 34,000 students. Reports show that 337 students have come down with COVID-19 and around 1,000 were quarantined.
Records show the same trend is playing out across the state. More than 14,000 Covid-19 cases have been reported in the state’s 15 largest school districts since the start of the school year, including 11,851 students and 2,610 school employees. Almost 30,000 are in quarantine.
Counties that have revolted against the governor’s order say they are in full compliance with the law because they give parents the option of opting out if they have a doctor’s note.
However, Republican leaders in the state recently announced that they will withhold pay for superintendents that don’t reverse their current mask mandates.
A recent poll found that 60 percent of Floridians support school mask mandates.
The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights recently announced it’s opening an investigation into whether laws that prevent students from wearing masks in schools violate the rights of children with pre-existing conditions that may be unable to go to school.
As Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recently told MSNBC, “We are prepared to launch investigations with our Office for Civil Rights to ensure that all students have access to this fundamental right of education. We’re going to use our Office for Civil Rights to investigate any claims that come forward to make sure that students’ rights are kept.”
The federal government appears willing to defend counties and schools that decide to issue their own mask mandates, even if it defies state law.
“We stand ready to assist any district facing repercussions for imposing CDC-recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies that will protect the health and safety of students, educators, and staff,” Cardona said in a statement.
Many students will be wearing masks as they head back to school – whether their parents like it or not.