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Is COVID-19 risk to children ‘incredibly low?’

Our Trust Index checks into claim by Gov. Ron DeSantis

A woman puts a mask on a child.
A woman puts a mask on a child. (August de Richelieu/Pexels stock image)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At news conferences held in the days since Florida’s education commissioner ordered schools across the state to resume in-person classes next month, Gov. Ron DeSantis has claimed in various ways that children run an “incredibly low” risk for contracting coronavirus.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who can make an argument this is especially risky for kids,” DeSantis said Friday.

“The risk for corona, fortunately, for students is incredibly low,” he said Saturday.

Since the health of their children is the top issue of practically every parent in America right now, we wanted to run DeSantis’ statements through our Trust Index.

The first expert we consulted was Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, former director of the Duval County Health Department and now chief of community and societal pediatrics at UF Health.

“No, the risk is not incredibly low,” Goldhagen said.

Goldhagen said while it is true that someone under age 18 does have a decreased chance of contracting COVID-19, school children will indeed be at risk of contracting the virus in school.

But increased exposure to other children and staff needs to be considered.

“In the school system or wherever, a child is one third less at risk as an adult, but has three times the number of contacts. Then their capacity to spread the disease is the same as adults,” Goldhagen said.

Medical experts add that while face masks may be part of many schools’ back-to-school plans and masks do reduce transmission rates, getting children to wear them consistently is difficult.

According to Florida Department of Health statistics as of Friday, 17,073 people under the age of 18 across the state have contracted COVID-19. At some point, 213 of those people were hospitalized at some point. Four of them have died.

Goldhagen said not only are children less likely to get infected, they are less likely to become symptomatic. Therefore they may bring the virus home to family or others who are more suseptable.

“We have to move away from this perspective that children are not at risk of getting infected with the disease ... that they’re not at risk for spreading the disease,” he said. “Those assumptions are wrong.”

Based on this pediatrician’s experience and the state data we gathered., we give a Be Careful rating to DeSantis’ statement that that “there’s an incredibly low risk to school children.”

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