Florida Politics | By Renzo Downey | August 12, 2021
Wearing masks will help reduce the spread among students, pediatricians say.
A 5-year-old child has died of COVID-19 at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare — the first child to die there of the disease, the hospital confirmed Thursday.
The child died within the past month, TMH pediatricians confirmed Thursday. Four children are currently hospitalized for the disease, including a child younger than 5 and a child between 5 and 12.
The hospital would not confirm whether the child who died was hospitalized primarily for COVID-19.
TMH hosted the meeting the day after classes resumed in Leon County Schools. On Tuesday, the Leon County School Board ordered that students wear masks, but allowed parents to opt out from the mask requirement, a walk back from an initial mask mandate for students in prekindergarten through eighth grade. The School Board reversed the mandate, which left a doctor opt-out option, after the Department of Health told the district the order violated the Department of Health’s rules on mask requirements, as directed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Superintendent Rocky Hanna cited an increase in hospitalized children for the push toward masks, which he initiated after a conversation with Dr. Tom Truman, a pediatric critical care physician at TMH.
On a call with reporters Thursday, Truman called the delta variant “a different beast.” Unlike in previous waves, when the majority of pediatric hospitalizations with COVID-19 were incidental findings, the majority now are headed to the hospital specifically for symptoms related to the disease.
“Will the mask prevent the spread of every single case? No, nothing can do that,” he said. “But will it mitigate and have the kids have a better chance of staying safe while staying in school? I think absolutely.”
As of Friday, eight children younger than 16 have died with COVID-19 in Florida while 289,000 have tested positive.
Dr. Nectar Aintablian, a pediatric infectious disease expert at TMH, said many students will be sent home next week and the week after because of exposure to contagious classmates.
“It’s going to happen to every classroom until this passes,” she said.
Universal masking would help reduce the spread, she continued.
“There’s too many factors,” Aintablian said. “We’re taking too many chances, and it’s not responsible to not require masks, because it’s proven. It’s second best to vaccination.”
Both pediatricians pushed back against calls from some parents for temperature checks, both for logistical and medical reasons. Aintablian wasn’t sure temperature checks were effective last year and noted that fevers aren’t a universal symptom in children.
Children younger than 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated. And with a 16% positivity rate in Leon County, what Truman called crisis levels, more children will be hospitalized. Statewide, the positivity rate for children between the ages of five and 12 is 20%, while the rate for those 12 to 18 is 24%.
President Joe Biden‘s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said some studies have shown the delta variant leads to more severe cases in adults.
“With regard to children, this could possibly be the case, but we’re not seeing this in a definitive way,” Fauci said. “The only thing we know for sure is that more infections mean more children will be in the hospital.”
More than 800 physicians in Florida have signed a letter to DeSantis asking him to repeal his school mask mandate ban.
“Blocking communities from making local decisions to protect themselves with his top-down, one-size-fits-all edict will only make matters worse,” they wrote.