JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The number of new COVID-19 cases in children, along with hospitalizations, has increased over the last week across the state.
This comes as schools across Florida are preparing to head back to school under an emergency order to reopen school buildings and allow students to attend classes in person five days a week.
On July 16, the state had a total of 23,170 children ages 17 and under who had tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Florida Department of Health. By July 24, that number jumped to 31,150. That’s a 34% increase in new cases among children in eight days, CNN reported.
And more children in Florida are requiring hospitalization. As of July 16, 246 children had been hospitalized with coronavirus. By July 24, that number had jumped to 303. That’s a 23% increase in child Covid-19 hospitalizations in eight days.
During that same time period, the death toll among children in Florida went from 4 to 5 after the death of Kimora “Kimmie” Lynum, a Putnam County girl who died from complications due to COVID-19 and had no pre-existing health conditions, according to family. Lynum was the youngest person in the state whose death has been connected to COVID-19.
The increase in hospitalizations and cases comes as Jacksonville-area schools roll out school reopening plans — plans that have been met with protests from parents and teachers.
The Duval County school district was one of at least three school districts in the state that have opted not to follow the emergency order from the Florida Department of Education.
The superintendent said Thursday, even though the Republican National Convention was not coming to Jacksonville any more, the number of cases in the county merited a phased-in approach to reopening schools.
In Jacksonville, where teachers are protesting the school district’s decision to go back to face-to-face instruction for part of the school week, coronavirus cases among kids are up 62% in the last two weeks.
“I think the data speaks for itself. Yes, there has been increased hospitalization,” said Mobeen Rathore, a Jacksonville Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist. “This is an equal opportunity virus. It doesn’t care about the age.”
Rathore said there is a misconception that children can’t get the virus, but it’s true that kids don’t often get as sick as adults do.
“That doesn’t mean they don’t get sick. Kids get very sick. Kids are even dying because of COVID-19. Another part of it we will see, may see 4-6 weeks after the infection – that is the MSIC disease. In which case, kids will get very seriously ill,” he added.
The new data is being released as school districts across the state grapple with how to follow an emergency order that could put school funding at risk if districts don’t reopen for face-to-face instruction.
In Duval County the district is pitching a hybrid approach to reopening, offering students a chance to go back to the classroom for part of the week and receive virtual instruction on other days.
Dr. Rathore said the surge in cases doesn’t necessarily mean that virtual school is the best choice for every family.
“We need to change our lexicon. There’s no such thing as safe,” he said. “A car is not safe, but you are making it safer by wearing your seatbelt.”
Cases in Duval County children 17-years-old and younger increased by about 21% over the last week.
The new cases directly contradict US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ claims that children are “stoppers of the disease” who “don’t get it and transmit it themselves.”
Meanwhile, researchers in South Korea found that young people between ages 10 and 19 transmit the virus just as easily as adults.
Already more than 23,000 students in Duval County have selected the online distance learning option and more than 1,000 have chosen virtual school. That still leaves another 83% of students who have either not chosen a path or plan on returning to a physical school building in the fall.
The number of deaths are attributed to COVID-19 in Florida surpassed 6,000 on Monday, with more than a third of those happening during a spike that began about a month ago. While the deaths keep mounting, the daily increase in cases was the lowest in weeks.
The state health department reported another 76 deaths Monday, bringing the number of people in Florida who have died of coronavirus since the beginning of March to 6,048. About 2,400 of those have died since the beginning of July.
Four of the deaths reported in the last 24 hours were in Duval County -- ages 74 to 91 -- bringing the total to 143. There were two additional deaths in St. Johns County -- ages 64 and 79 -- for a total of 21.
CNN contributed to this report.