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Florida grapples with record Covid surge as school year set to start for some

Florida has become an epicenter of the latest surge of the pandemic in the U.S. with cases still breaking records as school starts this week for some.

Florida has become an epicenter of the latest surge of the pandemic in the U.S. with new cases still breaking records and hospitalizations rising as school starts this week in some districts.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing legal challenges over his executive order threatening to withhold funds for schools that have mask requirements for students. The governor was also dealt a blow over a law banning companies from requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccinations.

As the school year starts this week for some districts and later this month for others, one lawsuit represents concerned parents of students in schools across the state, attorney Charles Gallagher told NBC News.

The parents involved in the lawsuit, filed Friday, are concerned that the governor’s executive order has framed mask requirements “as a parents’ choice issue, when it's clearly a public health issue,” he said.

The families have students who are too young to get vaccinated, have medical conditions, or face other issues that put them at risk or will make them suffer if they are denied the right to a safe school environment, he said, a right guaranteed in the Florida Constitution.

A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 swab test at a testing site at Tropical Park in Miami on Friday.Eva Marie Uzcategui / Bloomberg via Getty Images

In a separate lawsuit filed Friday, a congressional candidate from South Florida and father to three school-aged children also sued over barring schools from requiring students from wearing masks.

DeSantis is holding firm on the ban, with his office on Monday announcing that the Florida Board of Education could withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who don't comply with the ban on mask mandates.

On Sunday, a federal judge ordered that Norwegian Cruise Line could temporarily require passengers to prove they've been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Norwegian sued Florida's top health official in July after DeSantis, a Republican, signed a law banning companies from requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination.

The judge, of the state's southern district, ruled the cruise line would be "irreparably injured" by the state’s ban. The decision will remain in effect as the company pursues a permanent ruling and comes a week before its first scheduled departure in more than a year.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings said in a statement the decision would allow it “to operate in the safest way possible.”

"We welcome today’s ruling that allows us to sail with 100 percent fully vaccinated guests and crew which we believe is the safest and most prudent way to resume cruise operations amid this global pandemic,” Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., said in the statement.

Florida’s Health Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but a spokeswoman for DeSantis told The Associated Press the state will appeal the ruling and said in a statement, “A prohibition on vaccine passports does not even implicate, let alone violate, anyone’s speech rights, and it furthers the substantial, local interest of preventing discrimination among customers based on private health information.”

On Friday, a record-breaking 23,903 new Covid-19 cases were reported in the state, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It was the third time that Florida surpassed its record of new daily Covid-19 cases within a week. The state first reported its highest one-day total on July 31 with 21,683 new cases. Then, on Thursday, at least 22,783 new daily cases were reported, CDC data showed.

Covid-19 hospitalizations in the state also increased at record-breaking levels for six consecutive days last week, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Florida Department of Health reported 134,506 new Covid cases this past week from July 30 to Aug. 5. That brings the state to 2,725,450 total cases and 39,695 total deaths.