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Coronavirus cases rising in school-age Florida children, connection to classroom unknown

Investigations

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Coronavirus cases are on the rise among young people in Florida, but we don’t know yet how many of the cases involve children who’ve returned to the classroom.

Data released by the Florida Department of Health shows a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in younger people.

For example: On Aug. 17, there were 23,033 cases in the 5 to 14 age group. A month later, as schools reopened, the number jumped to 28,011 cases.

That’s a 22% increase in cases for the age group.

Hospitalizations also jumped 23% during the same time period. On Aug. 17, 196 kids were hospitalized. A month later, the hospitalization number increased to 241.

Here’s the problem: The state won’t tell us if these kids were in the classroom. So we don’t know if the cases are connected to schools.

“It scares me very much so, absolutely,” said Barbara Walker. “We’re all trying to make good decisions based on these numbers.”

For now, Walker is keeping her 15-year-old daughter out of the classroom. The teen is sticking to online learning.

Despite state data showing a growing number of cases in children, Florida is still not releasing virus data for schools and day cares.

The report has not yet been published, according to a Department of Health spokesman.

“It is currently being developed,” Director of Communications Alberto Moscoso said.

“If they’re not transparent and they’re not accurate or not properly reported, we have a real problem,” said Walker.

Dr. Jay Wolfson, a public health professor at USF Health, believes standardization is key.

“We don’t want to have 67 school districts around the state independently reporting stuff to the public,” said Dr. Wolfson.

Wolfson says a state report that details school infections in a uniform way, utilizing the same measurement and reporting techniques would be helpful.

Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he supported releasing that data.

As we wait, Dr. Wolfson says it’s important to monitor the ventilation systems in schools to stop any spread.

“The most important thing you can do, other than wear masks and socially distance, is to make sure that the ventilation systems in those facilities are carefully monitored, the filters are checked,” said Dr. Wolfson. “It is scary for a parent, if your child does get sick, there’s a chance that they might get rather sick.”

Walker is concerned about the community, her family and her own health.

“There’s people, many people, that depend on me and I just don’t want to let anyone down,” she said.

8 On Your Side will keep pressing the state to release the data and will let you know as soon as it’s published.

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