Florida ranked seventh in the nation in cumulative COVID-19 cases per 100,000 children.
FLORIDA— Although more than 40,000 children under 18 have tested positive for coronavirus in the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to drive home his belief that there’s very little risk to school-age children of catching COVID-19, adding that he thinks they are not significant spreaders of the infection.
“It’s really a policy decision at that point,” DeSantis said. “The risks are I would say low for the students. You take that and you have to look at what are the costs of not offering in-person [schooling] and then make that judgment.”
The governor said this during a discussion on school reopening held in Hillsborough County, Florida, with state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, despite the fact that according to the state’s Department of Health (DOH), as of August 17 there are 46,206 children under 18 years of age who have tested positive for the illness statewide.
Studies Negate Governor’s Claims
This comes after a new study from South Korean researchers, which analyzed nearly 65,000 people who had COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus, concluded that children and teens between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults. And although children younger than 10 transmit the virus to others much less often than adults do, the risk of transmission is not zero. The study’s authors also cautioned that “young children may show higher attack rates when the school closure ends, contributing to community transmission of Covid-19.”
In addition, following an outbreak of COVID-19 at an overnight camp in Georgia in June—even though the camp adhered to all the requirements in that state’s protocol for reopening—the CDC concluded that despite mitigation efforts, the coronavirus can “spread efficiently” in youth-centric activities, causing a spike in infection rates among attendees of all ages.
For this reason, the CDC concluded it is vital to continue prevention efforts wherever children gather, specifically schools and child care centers.
Also, new data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association warn that reopening schools without proper social distancing measures in place could accelerate the spread of COVID-19.
Additionally, new research suggests that even if they have only mild or moderate symptoms, children can carry at least as much of the virus in their noses and throats as adults do, prompting fears that students who become ill at school may spread the virus to older relatives.
In fact, the New York Times reports that research has found that children younger than 5 may host up to 100 times as much of the virus in the upper respiratory tract as adults, though that measurement does not necessarily prove children are passing the virus to others. Still, experts think it should be discussed when debating opening the schools.
The study, however, was small and looked for viral RNA, not the live virus itself. It also did not identify race, gender or underlying conditions.
“We don’t fully understand the extent to which kids can fuel transmission, but studies like this indicate that it’s certainly possible that they have a role. It reminds us of how much is still unknown about this virus,” Alison Tribble, M.D., a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital told Michigan Health, adding that more research is needed to confirm these findings on a wider scale.
Florida in the Hot Zone
Regardless of the data, districts across the state, which ranked seventh on the list of cumulative COVID-19 cases per 100,000 children, were ordered to offer in-person learning in August or risk funding cuts, although parents can choose to continue online learning.
Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last month that officials in counties where the test positivity rate is higher than 5% should consider keeping classrooms closed to students.
But according to the Florida Education Association and school district websites, of the at least 12 counties that will reopen this week for in-person learning, nine or more had test positivity rates higher than 5% as of Saturday, reports the Florida Department of Health. Baker County, for example, has a 34% coronavirus positivity rate.
Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, said that the state’s mandate that kids return to school represents “mismanagement at its highest level,” adding that “we are putting our kids in harm’s way.”