TAMPA, Fla — As local school districts battle the state and Gov. Ron DeSantis over mask mandates, the governor has repeatedly cited statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics to make his case.
The governor claims those numbers show that on a percentage basis the same proportion of young people are being infected with COVID as during previous waves of the pandemic.
“We’ve not seen any major changes,” Gov. DeSantis has stated repeatedly at recent news conferences over the past two weeks.
In doing so, DeSantis has cited statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics, making it part of the basis for his executive order banning in-school mask mandates.
“So, here’s the question about Delta and the kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently acknowledged that they are seeing that there’s no evidence that they’ve seen that Delta is more impactful on kids than the prior variants,” said DeSantis.
The problem, say those watching children’s COVID cases climb, is that the AAP reports suggest the opposite.
It found as of Aug. 26, child cases had increased five-fold in the past month, rising from about 38,000 cases the week ending Jul. 22 to nearly 204,000 cases the following week.
“I think the state of Florida really deserves better leadership,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D) 14th District.
Castor, hosting an online forum, lashed out at DeSantis and the Florida Board of Education.
“And I would urge Gov. DeSantis to stop downplaying the important public health protocols that protect everyone,” she said. “But, especially our kids as they go back to school.”
The governor contends while the total number of COVID cases in children is higher, percentages have remained steady.
“The data is pretty clear that we have not seen any difference in terms of the proportion, in terms of hospitalization or mortality,” he said.
But the American Academy of Pediatrics report says since the pandemic began, children represented 14.8 percent of total cumulative cases. In the week ending Aug. 26th, children were 22.4 percent of reported weekly COVID cases - a 51 percent increase in the proportion of young COVID patients.
“So much is different right now, and I think there is evidence, I think in the last two weeks, that shows children are making up a much higher part proportion of all cases that are emerging in Florida,” said Dr. Jason Salemi with USF Health.
“I understand that kids do well with this and most recover,” said Dr. Christina Canody at BayCare Kids. “But still, we do have a lot of children who are being admitted to the hospital.”
The AAP report does conclude that severe illness due to COVID-19 is still uncommon among children.
Gov. DeSantis has repeatedly said it should be up to parents to decide whether their kids wear a mask to school, citing Florida’s parental bill of rights.
But if the governor and state board of education are going to cite statistics to enforce that policy, critics say the numbers must be current and accurate.
“This is a critical time where it is an all-hands-on-deck moment for all of us,” said Rep. Castor. “To listen to our public health professionals and our pediatricians.
Health experts recommend face coverings as part of a multi-layer approach when it comes to stemming transmission of COVID between young people.
They also stress the importance of vaccinations, washing hands, social distancing, and keeping kids home and out of school when they’re feeling sick.