Child COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations Spike in Florida Ahead of Mandate to Reopen Schools

Florida officials are requiring schools to reopen this fall despite a surge in area coronavirus cases

A view of high school students sitting at desks in a classroom with protective masks
High school students wearing PPE in class. Photo: Getty

The number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations among children in Florida has increased sharply over the past month, as state education officials move ahead with plans to reopen schools.

On July 16, the state had 23,170 children aged 17 and under who had tested positive since the onset of the pandemic, according to data from the Florida Department of Health. By July 24, that number had risen to 31,150.

In addition to the increase in cases — a 34 percent increase in just eight days — hospitalizations have also spiked, going from 246 children to 303 in the same time period.

Despite the number of coronavirus cases in children, Florida has mandated schools reopen for the fall semester. Commissioner of the Department of Education, Richard Corcoran, issued an executive order earlier this month requiring all schools to open for "at least" five days a week this fall.

A teacher checks temperature of students at a high school
A teacher checks temperature of students at a high school. Getty

"Upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students," the order states. "School districts and charter school governing boards must provide the full array of services that are required by law so that families who wish to educate their children in a brick and mortar school full time have the opportunity to do so."

The mandate has been endorsed by both President Donald Trump and education secretary Betsy DeVos. The same day as Florida’s announcement, Trump tweeted, "SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!," which Corcoran later retweeted.

DeVos backed the statement as well, adding "Absolutely right, @POTUS! Learning must continue for all students. American education must be fully open and fully operational this fall!" Corcoran also retweeted DeVos' statement.

Schools stay virtual
An empty classroom. Getty

DeVos has additionally claimed that children are "stoppers of the disease" who "don't get it and transmit it themselves,” statements that are directly contradicted by the number of cases among children in Florida and by recent research.

A study out of South Korea published last week found that children aged 10 to 19 can spread the coronavirus just as much as adults. The large study, published by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, reports that household transmission of the coronavirus “was high” for patients between 10 and 19 years of age.

“I fear that there has been this sense that kids just won’t get infected or don’t get infected in the same way as adults and that, therefore, they’re almost like a bubbled population,” Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times, warning that if schools reopen the coronavirus will spread.

“There will be transmission,” he added. “What we have to do is accept that now and include that in our plans.”

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