‘Big mistake’ for Florida schools to reopen this year: USF Epidemiologist says


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A USF epidemiologist told 8 On Your Side it would be a “big mistake” to let children return to school anytime soon.

Jason Salemi, an associate professor of epidemiology in the USF College of Public Health, worked on a study that found many more children in the United States may have COVID-19 than what’s been reported.  

The study found the projected number of child cases could overwhelm pediatric hospital care resources if the country does not keep flattening the curve.  

“There are 74 million children in the United States,” Salemi said in a Zoom interview, “so even a low risk can result in big numbers of children that are affected, especially when we don’t know what proportion of the population will get the virus.”

A week ago, 8 On Your Side introduced you to a family of five from Winter Haven that is fighting COVID-19. Danny Jones, his wife, and their three daughters each contracted the contagious virus.

“My children are doing much better,” Danny Jones said. “They’re almost asymptomatic now.”

While Jones said his middle child had just a slight cough, his youngest daughter “was crying herself to sleep at night because of the pain.”

Jones’ 16-year-old daughter had to go to the hospital for shortness of breath and dehydration.  

“Mom and dad couldn’t go with her and she was really, really scared,” Jones said. “So there’s a lot of challenges with kids getting the virus.”                   

Health experts say children run a lower risk of developing severe illness from the virus. Nearly 70 percent of the reported hospitalizations in Florida as of Friday morning are patients older than 55 years old.

Salemi and the researchers from USF projected if up to 25 percent of the U.S. population becomes infected with coronavirus in 2020, nearly 50,000 children could end up hospitalized with severe illness.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we wont get anywhere near the upper end estimates that we were projecting because people are using thorough and frequent handwashing, they’re practicing social distancing,” Salemi told 8 On Your Side.

The mitigation factors must continue, Salemi said. He added he is glad phase one of President Trump’s plan to reopen the country does not include schools.

“I think that’s a no brainer,” Salemi said. “I think it would be a big mistake to release children back to school anytime soon.”

Jones’ children are homeschooled. Having watched them fight the virus, he said students across Florida should learn virtually for the rest of the year.

“Even if my kids were healthy, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending them back to school right now,” he said.

8 On Your Side learned from Salemi that at least seven children in Florida with COVID-19 have been admitted to a pediatric ICU. Nationwide, he said that number is 128.


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