TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Children and teenagers currently have a higher coronavirus positivity rate than any other age group in Florida.
So is the delta variant a bigger threat to our kids than the initial strain of COVID-19? Doctors tell 8 On Your Side there’s no hard evidence that the delta variant is making kids sicker or that it’s more deadly. However, they’re still alarmed because it’s incredibly contagious.
The small silver lining at the start of the pandemic in 2020 was that COVID-19 appeared to be mostly sparing our children. But now, with the new variant, comes new concern.
Florida’s most recent weekly COVID-19 report showed one out of every four infections happened in someone 19 or younger.
The most recent seven-day period in state data, Aug. 13 through Aug. 19, showed children 12 and younger have a positivity rate of 23 percent. Those age 12 to 19 have a positivity rate of nearly 25 percent.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said there’s no evidence the Delta variant is more dangerous for kids. Last month, in a private closed-door meeting, Gov. DeSantis discussed the threat with doctors.
“Even if they do become infected, the likelihood that they will become sick is quite small,” Dr. Cody Meissner with Tufts University School of Medicine said.
Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, was also on the panel.
“I don’t think the delta variant changes the calculus or the evidence,” Dr. Bhattacharya said.
But Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Perno from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital says the Delta variant is five times more contagious than the previous strain.
“If you’re around someone and you’re not vaccinated, there’s a good chance you’re going to get the Delta strain,” Dr. Perno said.
Dr. Perno says each week, they’re seeing more COVID-positive kids in the emergency department, breaking records and straining the system. He says the virus is contagious, and many kids are maskless and unvaccinated.
“There’s more infection, but is it more dangerous as well?” 8 On Your Side Investigator Mahsa Saeidi asked him.
“That’s hard to say at this point,” Dr. Perno answered. “We see healthy children who need ICU admission. It’s going to happen more often in high-risk but we’re seeing it in healthy kids too.”
High-risk means your child is immunocompromised, obese or has an underlying condition like severe asthma.
Dr. Perno says, in the majority of cases, kids recover and go home. But he’s seen otherwise healthy children get hit hard and end up needing oxygen support.
“It’s not something to be trifled with. It’s significant,” Dr. Perno said.
Doctors says it’s a numbers game. As more children get infected, more of them will be hospitalized.
Thus far, data shows the percentage of kids getting hospitalized is not different than it was last year.