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Growing number of children in Hillsborough, Pinellas counties test positive for COVID-19

In three weeks, the counties have seen jumps of 163 percent and 200 percent, respectively, as the number of open pediatric ICU beds fluctuates.

TAMPA, Fla — The number of cases of COVID-19 in children 17 and younger is growing in Florida as the availability of pediatric ICU beds fluctuates.

10 Investigates found some counties report they don’t offer pediatric ICU beds. So, what happens to critically ill children with COVID-19?

Since asking the Florida Department of Health to release data specific to children, 10 Investigates has followed the weekly reports and looked at the hospital bed capacity dashboard provided by the Agency on Health Care Administration, or ACHA.

The dashboard shows the number of pediatric ICU beds available in the state and in Tampa Bay.

Since June 12, there has been a steady rise each week in counties across Tampa Bay reporting children with positive cases of COVID-19.

Since June 12, Hillsborough has seen 352 new cases in children -- that represents a 162.96 percent increase. Pinellas County has reported a 200-percent increase with 212 new cases in children younger than 17 since June 12.

As of midday on June 30, the hospital bed capacity dashboard showed 29.67 percent pediatric ICU availability for both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

That represents 27 open beds.  

Credit: Florida Agency for Health Care Administration

ACHA and hospitals point out the available pediatric ICU beds fluctuate throughout the day based on patient admission and discharge.

Dr. Angela Green is Chief of Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. She explained there’s a plan in case of a surge in children needing intensive care for COVID-19.

“The good news is they don’t come in large clusters like a trauma like if you had a bus accident on the freeway,” she said. “They really come in small numbers at a time and we have not seen large numbers in a single day.”

Green added they’ve been planning since February for any potential surge in children with COVID-19 needing care.

“If you run out of beds in the ICU, it’s really evaluating if you have other locations that you can move patients to within the hospital,” she said.

Hillsborough and Pinellas are not the only counties in Tampa Bay with children testing positive for COVID-19, however, they are the only two counties that report pediatric ICU bed availability.

Here’s what that means for children in other counties.

Credit: Florida Agency for Health Care Administration

“Generally you’ll find pediatric ICU beds in larger metropolitan areas and in larger hospitals, so I would not expect a rural hospital to have pediatric ICU beds,” Green said. “In general, they will migrate to the larger hospitals, in larger communities. 

“So, I think we’re fortunate that we have pediatric ICU beds in both Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties and at the community and state level there’s an ability to partner and work together to make sure that you meet the needs of the community.”

Credit: Florida Department of Health

Statewide, just like with adults, the number of children testing positive for COVID-19 has grown. In three weeks, there have been 3,790 new cases according to the weekly pediatric data reports released by Florida Health.

When it comes to children hospitalized, the numbers are much less. As of June 26, the state reported 155 children hospitalized. 

Green said that is why it is so important for children older than 2 to wear masks, follow social distancing and avoid large crowds.

“While the rise in cases is really scary for parents and really scary for health care providers, there are things that we can do in the community to keep children from getting COVID-19. So all of those things that protect adults also protect children,” she said.

ACHA said it has not seen issues with pediatric ICU availability in the state.

“Please note that hospitals have the ability to convert beds and bring additional ICU beds online in a surge situation when necessary. Within 48 hours, hospitals have the capability to dramatically increase statewide staffed capacity in the event of a surge situation,” said a spokesperson for the agency.

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