Florida Leads Nation In Kids Hospitalized For COVID

by Valerie Williams
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Florida reported 32 child hospitalizations per day between July 24 and July 30

Florida’s latest coronavirus stats prove that we really need to stop saying kids are safe from catching COVID. From July 24 to July 30, the state reported 32 pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations per day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the start of the new school year upon us (and conservative politicians banning mask mandates in some states) it’s time to be deeply concerned about the health of those too young to be vaccinated against the virus.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s child hospitalization rate is, when adjusted for population, 0.76 kids hospitalized per 100,000 residents, the highest rate in the country. Between July 23 and 29, the Florida Department of Health reported 10,785 new COVID-19 infections among kids under 12. Sadly, for kids old enough to be vaccinated, the numbers of infected are even higher — 11,048 new cases that same week for kids ages 12-19.

The Times also reports that as of July 17, Florida has stopped reporting COVID deaths by age group to the CDC. The paper spoke with Dr. Claudia Espinosa, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of South Florida, about the new surge in child cases and hospitalizations. The doctor expressed concern over cases spiking when kids return to school soon. “I’m terrified of what’s going to happen,” she says.

Of course, Florida’s case numbers are rising overall, not just in children. Just last week, the state accounted for nearly one in four new cases and hospitalizations in the entire nation. Dr. Allison Messina, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital’s chairman of the Division of Infectious Disease, says that while kids are at lower risk of developing serious illness when compared to adults, there’s still a small chance they could develop serious long-term complications from their infection. A new study just found that 1.8 percent of kids who contracted the virus had symptoms for eight weeks or longer.

It’s important to note that Florida is one of several states that have enacted bans on mask mandates in schools. Gov. Ron DeSantis just issued an executive order seeking to ban school mask mandates. That was after both Broward and Gadsden county schools indicated they’d require masks this school year. DeSantis cited his desire to “protect the rights of parents to make this decision about wearing masks for their children.”

What these conservative politicians (who are catering exclusively to their anti-mask base) are missing when they insist they’re giving parents a choice when it comes to masks is that the bans effectively remove choice from parents concerned for their children’s safety this school year. If a school can’t mandate masks that likely means tons of unmasked faces in a classroom, and as we’ve been told countless times in the last year, masks protect other people, not just the person wearing it. By not mandating masks, leaders are leaving worried parents with pretty trash options this school year — either sending their kids in person and risking them catching the virus or finding a way to home-school them at the last minute, which is certainly not possible for many families.

Conversely, mandating masks for all kids doesn’t make anyone less safe. What it does is make parents feel more confident sending their unvaccinated little ones to school as a dangerous variant that infects kids in high numbers continues to spread.

As far as how to slow the spread? Messina stresses the importance of the vaccine. “The only thing that is going to slow this down is more folks getting vaccinated.” she said. “Otherwise, cases are going to continue to rise.”