As health officials weigh in on whether or not kids can safely head back to school this fall and several states see a surge in new cases, new data has revealed that an alarming number of children in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19.
More than 17,000 kids in Florida under the age of 18 have tested positive for coronavirus since March, according to recently released data from the Florida Department of Health. Of the 54,022 children who have been tested in the state, 17,023 tested positive, bringing the state's current positivity rate among children to 31.1%.
According to the report, children under the age of 1 accounted for 7% of cases, while children between the ages of 1 and 4 contributed to 16%. For children between the ages of 5 and 9, 22% tested positive, while kids between 10 and 14 accounted for 26%. Teenagers between 15 and 17 years old accounted for the majority positive cases with 29%.
Of the 17,023 positive cases, the health department's report shows that 213 resulted in hospitalizations and four children between the ages of 10 to 17 have died.
Dr. Alina Alonso, M.D., Palm Beach County’s health department director, told CBS 12 the positivity rate in testing is significantly higher among children. "That literally means that a third of the age under 18 that we test are positive," she said, according to the news outlet.
Speaking to county commissioners this week, as the Sun-Sentinel reported, Alonso touched on concerns surrounding the unknown long-term effects of COVID-19. "They are seeing there is damage to the lungs in these asymptomatic children," Alonso said, according to the newspaper. "We don’t know how that is going to manifest a year from now or two years from now. Is that child going to have chronic pulmonary problems or not?"
Early research has suggested that children may be less likely to become infected with COVID-19, as StatNews reported, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that available evidence indicates "children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults."
However, there have been multiple cases of children developing MIS-C, also known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. MIS-C is a new and rare condition that causes inflammation in certain parts of the body, including the heart, lungs, and kidneys, the CDC and John Hopkins Medicine explains. The exact cause of MIS-C is unknown, yet many children who have it have also tested positive for COVID-19. According to the Florida Health Department's new data, 13 children in the state were found to have MIS-C.
Dr. Nadine Choueiter, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at Montefiore Hospital in New York, told NPR that doctors are continuing to monitor children who've been diagnosed with MIS-C because it's so new. "We've seen these kids get really sick, and get better and recover and go home, yet we don't know what the long-term outcomes are," Choueiter told the news outlet.
As more data and research comes to light, parents are undoubtedly concerned about whether their children can safely return to school in the fall. Earlier this month, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in an emergency order that "all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools in August at least five days per week for all students." Even so, as Click Orlando reported, parents and school districts will likely have flexibility with virtual and in-person learning options.
Earlier this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics stressed in a statement that science and experts, not politics, should be the deciding factors on reopening schools, noting that areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases "should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts."
While health officials, educators, and parents try to sort out the best plan for children this fall, the CDC has stressed that frequent hand-washing, limiting children from gathering in groups, and having those over the age of 2 wear a mask when out in public will help reduce the spread of the virus.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.