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Nearly 500 students in Palm Beach County, Florida, have been quarantined because of COVID-19 just two days into the school year, the district's superintendent said Thursday.

Why it matters: Superintendent Michael Burke's announcement comes as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has maintained his executive order banning school districts in the state from requiring the use of masks amid criticism and lawsuits.

  • Burke said that 51 cases of COVID-19 are confirmed in the district. Of the cases, 37 are students and 14 are employees.
  • While Palm Beach County public schools have now made masks mandatory for all students and staff, 6,394 of the roughly 167,000 students in the district have opted out of wearing them.

What they're saying: "The governor's got to take responsibility for establishing the ground rules we're operating under," Burke said. "And this ability for families to opt out is leading to more cases, which is ultimately going to send more kids home and deprive them of that traditional classroom experience."

  • "We can't completely mitigate the risk, but I think if we could mandate the face coverings, have our kids in the classroom, that would be the best shot," he added.

The big picture: Florida has reported over 2.7 million COVID-19 cases so far and currently has an average seven-day positivity rate of between 20 and 25 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Many children returning for in-person schooling this fall are not vaccinated, and children under 12 are not eligible for a vaccine.
  • The latest numbers from the American Academy of Pediatrics show nearly 94,000 cases of COVID among children.
  • DeSantis currently faces legal challenges over his order, with some districts mandating masks despite the ban.

Go deeper

Oct 27, 2021 - Health

COVID cases, deaths at meat plants were far higher than previously thought

Tyson Foods in Portland, Maine, in 2020. Photo: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Cases and deaths from COVID-19 among workers at the five largest U.S. meatpacking companies were nearly three times higher than previously thought, according to a memo from the House panel probing the response to the pandemic.

Driving the news: At least 59,000 workers contracted COVID-19 and 269 workers died at Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, National Beef and Smithfield Foods — which together make up more than 80% of the beef market and 60% of the pork market in the U.S. — according to counts through January of this year.

Updated 14 hours ago - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters' union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under De Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.

Judge rejects Southwest pilots' challenge to vaccine mandate

A Southwest Airlines plane leaves the gate at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Oct. 21. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

A judge ruled that Southwest Airlines can mandate its 9,000 pilots to be vaccinated against COVID-19, declining a union request for a restraining order on the policy, per AP.

Details: U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn said in her ruling against the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association on Tuesday that the airline was meeting its goal on air transportation safety and "providing 'safe and reasonable working conditions' for pilots, by preventing the spread of disease" with the requirement, the Dallas Morning News noted.

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