COVID spreading fastest among Florida’s younger children

An elderly woman comes out with her son after getting a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a federal mass vaccination site at Miami Dade College North Campus in Miami on April 1

FORT LAUDERDALE – Children younger than 12, the only portion of the population that cannot be protected by a COVID-19 vaccine, now make up a growing share of new coronavirus cases in Florida.

This young age group experienced a 52% increase in new cases for the week ending July 1 from a week earlier — rising to 1,471 cases from 968. The average increase across all age groups was 35%.

Test positivity increased 46% in Florida children under 12 over the last week, the highest percentage increase of all age categories.

Children, however, still represent only about 9% of new COVID cases in Florida, and it’s too early to tell whether the rise will continue into future weeks.

“This is the group we have to keep our eyes on because they can’t be protected through vaccination,” said Jason Salemi, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida.

Delta variant numbers

On the heels of a holiday weekend, public health experts will track new cases and hospitalizations closely, particularly with evidence that the Delta variant has made its way into 34 counties in Florida.

Children remain at far less risk than adults for severe complications or death from COVID-19. Nationwide, fewer than 2% of pediatric COVID 19 cases have led to hospitalizations.

But because young children are ineligible for vaccination, they are susceptible to the highly contagious Delta variant. So far, 30 children who are 12 or under have been infected by the Delta variant in Florida, and none of them were hospitalized, state records show.

“We will have to see if this is a one-week blip or a long-term increase resulting from the Delta variant’s increase in prevalence in the state,” Salemi said. “We will have to continue to monitor.”

Teen positivity rate

Nicole Slilat of Cooper City says she’s not taking risks.

Slilat drove her children to New Jersey this week instead of flying out of concern her 11-year-old son Ethan has not been vaccinated. Her 13-year-old daughter Maya has not been vaccinated yet, but will be before school starts, Slilat said.

“I feel guilty ... one I can protect and the other I cannot,” she said. “We all go out and have a great time and I am not fearful because I am vaccinated, but if someone gets sick, it’s likely it will be him.”

In Florida, teens ages 12 to 19 had the highest positivity rate of any age group during the past week at 6.7%. Only the most heavily vaccinated subgroups — 50 and older — had a positivity less than 5%.

Pediatricians say they are seeing an uptick in patients testing positive.

“What I tell parents is although children don’t tend to get as sick as grandparents, they can still get sick,” said Dr. Tommy Schechtman, president and CEO of Pediatric Partners in Palm Beach Gar- dens, Jupiter and Boca Raton. “Everyone needs to practice good public health measures when someone in the family is not vaccinated.”

Keeping them safe

With the Delta variant, symptoms differ from the original strain of COVID-19 and may resemble a bad cold with a runny nose and sore throat. Schechtman advises parents to proceed as if a child who has these symptoms has COVID unless they receive a negative test result.

Schechtman, a past president of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says the more Floridians who get vaccinated, the more children will be protected from COVID.

“Hopefully by fall they will be able to lower the age limit,” he said. “But in the meantime, we’ll all need to practice good techniques to keep our children safe.”

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