Infectious disease expert pushes back against DeSantis’ COVID-19 claim about children

"It's important to understand that children can get very sick with COVID-19," said Dr. Mobeen Rathore, pediatric infectious disease expert

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a roundtable discussion with Miami-Dade County mayors during the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While addressing reporters during a COVID-19 press conference Friday, Gov. Ron DeSanits made the case for why schools should reopen five days a week this fall.

“I think school districts should do whatever they can to provide that, particularly for our very young students,” he said. “I think one of the things that we’re really concerned about is some of the learning gaps that will develop in [kindergarten] through [fifth grade].”

MORE | DeSantis: School reopening decisions shouldn’t be based on fear

To support his argument that it’s safe enough to reopen schools even as cases continue to rise in Florida, DeSantis said children are at a much lower risk to contract the sometimes deadly virus.

“I look particularly at those elementary school kids, and the science on that is just overwhelming. Yes, they’re at almost zero risk, but even more than that, transmission from an elementary school [student] to an adult is extremely rare,” DeSantis said. “I think generally for schools, the kids aren’t vectors, but you know, as you get into 17-18 [years old], I think you can probably find some examples of that.”

"It's important to understand that children can get very sick with COVID-19," said Dr. Mobeen Rathore, pediatric infectious disease expert.

Dr. Mobeen Rathore, a pediatric infectious disease expert, told News4Jax that children can still get very sick with COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is an equal opportunity infection,” Rathore said. “There’s no reason that the child cannot get infected or a child has any less chance of getting infected than an adult, just so happens children don’t get that ill.”

The bigger concern, Rathore said, are the teachers and other staff at the schools. There’s also a risk students can transmit the disease to parents and grandparents at home, he said.

“Coronavirus can certainly kill children just as it can kill adults, but the chances of a child dying of the coronavirus are much lower than for adults,” Rathore said.

About 21% of the 323,002 reported COVID-19 infections are people under the age of 25, with 5% being under 15 years old, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Out of the 4,805 COVID-19-related deaths reported in Florida, 14 were people under the age of 25, according to state data released Friday.

Some have noted that much of the COVID-19 data reported by the state so far has been collected while schools were closed, either for the summer or in favor of distance learning early in the outbreak.

Also Friday, a pediatrician at UF Health Jacksonville who is also a former director of the Duval County Health Department sent an open letter Friday expressing his concerns about the potential impact reopening schools too soon could have on children and their parents.

“There will be spread of disease secondary to the school opening. Some children will be infected and hospitalized. Increased numbers of adults will follow the same path. Deaths will most likely occur due to school reopening,” Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen wrote. “We only have one chance to get this right.”

Rathore said he’s also concerned about what will happen when the Republican National Convention comes to Jacksonville two weeks after school starts.

“Everybody expects the cases to go up. I hope I’m wrong, I expect that too,” Rathore said.

Rathore added that he supports the idea of delaying the start of school until after the RNC.

The Duval County School District is currently weighing pushing back the start date two weeks or starting the year with all students on distance learning.

The latest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics say, “The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”

The group also noted that safety measures are able to mitigate, but not eliminate risk of contracting the virus.

About the Author:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.