As Florida schools prepare to reopen next month under a push from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis touting the need for in-person instruction, state health officials reported disturbing new statistics about the increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations among the state’s children.
Perhaps even more concerning is the spike in youth hospitalized with COVID-19 during that time period. The latest data shows 303 youth hospitalizations, up 23% from July 16. About one-third of those cases are in children 14-17 years old, followed by 67 cases among children under one.
The data is at odds with the narrative President Donald Trump’s administration continues to promote that the disease has a negligible effect on school-aged children. Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, have stressed that schools should prioritize a return to in-person classroom settings, while allowing that some exceptions may be necessary.
“They don’t catch it easily; they don’t bring it home easily,” Trump said at a press briefing last week. “And if they do catch it, they get better fast.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also has dismissed the risk of reopening schools with in-person instruction. “We don’t think our children should be locked up at home with devastating consequences when it’s perfectly safe for them to go to school,” she said at a recent White House briefing.
The overall rate of positive cases among youth in Florida is 14.4%, the state health department said Sunday. The World Health Organization has advised that governments track 14 consecutive days of a positivity rate below 5% before easing any virus-related restrictions.
But DeSantis is continuing to strongly urge all Florida school districts to resume in-person instruction in August. The state’s education commissioner, DeSantis-appointee Richard Corcoran, earlier this month signed an order requiring school districts to offer the option of a traditional, five-day-a-week, on-campus schedule. The order leaves room for local health officials to override it.
“It is often asked whether it is safe to return kids to school. It should also be asked, how safe is it to keep schools closed?” DeSantis said in an address last week, citing academic and social impacts on children who participate in distance learning.
Florida is in the midst of one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country. In the past week, it’s tallied more cases per capita than any other state.
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