• 17,073 children in Florida tested positive for the coronavirus
  • The 31% positivity rate for children is 3 times the state's average positivity rate
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis still wants schools to reopen in the fall

Nearly a third of children in Florida tested for COVID-19 have shown positive for the SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2). The alarming data was uncovered through an analysis of state statistics and comes amid a raging debate on reopening schools in the state.

The analysis revealed that 31% of 54,022 children, or 17,073, had tested positive in the state for the coronavirus. This positivity rate is almost three times Florida's average positivity rate of 11% among all age groups.

Of the children who tested positive, 213 were hospitalized, and four have died. Those in the age group of one to 17 were counted as children for the purpose of the analysis, Florida's Department of Health said.

Equally alarming is another finding that 13 of the positive children had a potentially deadly inflammatory condition called the "Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome" (PMIS), also called "Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children" (MIS-C).

Of these 13 cases, eight were children below 10 years of age; the oldest was 17. Seven of the children were white; five were Black American.

The condition is a complication resulting from the exposure to SARS-CoV-2. It manifests as a persistent fever, stomach pain, vomiting, inflammation and organ dysfunction, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in late June reported nearly 300 cases of PMIS in the U.S. These studies were the first attempt to measure the frequency of PMIS in children and how it affected them. They also found that PMIS was occuring in larger than expected numbers. PMIS can potentially inflict lifelong damage to children's health.

Dr. Alina Alonso, the health department director of Palm Beach County, told county commissioners Tuesday that the long-term consequences of COVID-19 in children remains unknown. Dr. Alonso described X-rays as revealing damage caused to lungs by the SARS-CoV-2, even in children without severe symptoms.

People in Miami wear face masks, as Florida reports record number of new cases of the coronavirus.
People in Miami wear face masks, as Florida reports record number of new cases of the coronavirus. AFPTV / Antoni BELCHI

“They are seeing there is damage to the lungs in these asymptomatic children ... We don’t know how that is going to manifest a year from now or two years from now,” said Dr. Alonso. “Is that child going to have chronic pulmonary problems or not?”

The finding is certain to add fuel to a raging debate on whethere or not to reopen Florida's schools next month. The state's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, a staunch suporter of President Donald Trump, is pressuring the school systems to reopen. The schools are pushing back, citing the state's record-setting pace of infections over the past few weeks.

DeSantis has claimed the COVID-19 risk to children remains "very low." He's also adamant about reopening schools. To bolster his argument, he even said he'd be comfortable sending his children to school if they were old enough.

Of the 4,514 COVID-19 deaths reported in Florida as of Tuesday, only four were those younger than 18. Doctors have, however, warned that while children do have more resistance to SARS-CoV-2, they can also serve as disease carriers and infect older members of their households.

Florida is the current epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., based on a 7-day rolling average of new cases per one million people from March 1 to July 14. Nine of the 20 U.S. metro areas with the highest daily case growth are in Florida. The state on Sunday announced more than 15,000 new cases, shattering the single-day case records in New York and California.