Gov. DeSantis is pushing to reopen schools in the fall, saying children are at low risk for the novel coronavirus. But the numbers tell a different story.
FLORIDA — According to state data released last Friday, Florida has tested 54,022 Florida residents under the age of 18 for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus since March. Of those tests, 16,797 came back positive.
But these figures continue on the rise. According to state data released by the Florida Department of Health, Florida has tested 173,520 state residents under the age of 18 for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Of those tests, the number has gone up from 17,000 reported last Friday to 23,170 tests that came back positive.
To put those numbers in perspective, the positivity rate for the children is 13.4 percent, while the rate for the entire population of the state stands at approximately 11 percent. According to the Florida Department of Health, an 11-year-old boy from Miami-Dade County with serious underlying health conditions, a 16-year-old girl in Lee County, a 17-year-old boy in Pasco County, an 11-year-old girl in Broward County, and a 9-year-old girl from Putnam County have died from coronavirus.
Kids Can Be at Risk
Some studies suggest that children are less likely to catch COVID-19 than adults and that if they do catch the illness, they will likely be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. But children and teens can still spread the disease to others who might have a higher risk for serious complications, such as seniors or those with underlying health conditions.
Additionally, kids themselves can be at risk for more grave complications. “Children who are obese or have health conditions, including asthma, are at a higher risk for severe illness with the disease,” Dr. Marcos Mestre, senior medical director of pediatric services at Nicklaus Children Hospital in Miami, told the Miami Herald.
Studies suggest that children are also far less likely to die of the disease, as of the 4,514 COVID-19 deaths reported by the Florida Department of Health as of Tuesday, four have been younger than 18. According to the Florida Department of Health, an 11-year-old boy from Miami-Dade County with serious underlying health conditions, as well as a 16-year-old girl in Lee County, a 17-year-old boy in Pasco County, and an 11-year-old girl in Broward County, have died from coronavirus.
Other COVID-19 Related Health Concerns
But this shouldn’t lull into a false sense of security. Researchers have also linked an inflammatory condition with coronavirus in children. Although the condition, called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, doesn’t appear to be widespread, researchers say it is serious and potentially deadly. The symptoms may vary and can appear up to a month after a child is infected with coronavirus (this includes those who were asymptomatic). Most kids recover, but at this time it is not known if it can affect adults or if some children are at higher risk of contracting it.
Future Chronic Problems
On Tuesday Dr. Alina Alonso, Palm Beach County’s health department director, sounded a warning alarm to county commissioners, telling them that X-rays have revealed that the virus can cause lung damage even in people who show no severe symptoms.
“They are seeing there is damage to the lungs in these asymptomatic children. We don’t know how that is going to manifest a year from now or two years from now,” or if the child will have “chronic pulmonary issues” down the road, Alonso said. She added that much is unknown about the long-term health consequences for children who contract the illness, as early evidence suggests some children infected with the virus could have lasting damage.
“This is something serious, and we are learning new information about this virus every day,” Alonso said.
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A Push for Schools to Reopen
But despite the mounting evidence and the warnings of health officials to observe social distancing guidelines and not gather in groups, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis maintains that the risk for kids is “extremely, extremely low”, and has been unwavering in his push to reopen Florida schools next month.
According to the Republican incumbent, proper schooling is not just receiving a good education, but also about making sure children have the social experience of mingling with classmates and participating in extracurricular activities.
During a radio interview with Rush Limbaugh, the governor said that he would send his own children to school. That is if his three-year-old boy, two-year-old daughter and newborn daughter were old enough to attend.
This story has been updated to reflect the more recent number of COVID-19 cases amongst children in Florida.