Palm Beach County School Board members were set to vote Wednesday afternoon on a reopening plan to submit to the state for approval. Last week, board members backed starting with virtual or distance learning when classes begin Aug. 10.
But Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said it’s safe to send kids to school and this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended students be ‘physically present in school’ as much as possible.
“For a place where they have declining rates, have the ability to contact trace a little bit better than we do here in South Florida, it’s a much easier decision,” said Dr. Chad Sanborn, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who practices at KIDZ Medical Services in West Palm Beach.
Dr. Sanborn, who is himself a parent, said while he agrees children need to be in school, it’s difficult to do with the current surge of coronavirus cases in South Florida.
“Even though most children do not get sick, you have all children potentially getting exposed to the virus, and getting the virus, you will quickly fill up some of the children’s hospitals,” said Sanborn, referring to kids who could contract a rare complicated case. He said he’s seen some kids get very sick with respiratory illness from COVID-19.
Sanborn also said while there is evidence younger children don’t get coronavirus or spread it to the degree seen among teenagers or adults, more study is needed in the school setting.
“Most other viruses, you know, any parent will tell you, with a school age child, they bring home things all the time,” he said. “And often they give it to their family members.”
And he pointed out here in South Florida, there are many multi-generational families, some members with existing medical conditions.
“Even if a child gets a mild illness at school, bringing that home to their family could potentially be a very bad thing for the other family members,” Sanborn said.
On Tuesday, Dr. Alina Alonso, the state health department director in Palm Beach County, brought up the positivity test rate among children.
The positivity rate among the entire population — 11 percent — is above the target, but significantly higher among children.
Alonso told county commissioners in the past week that the positivity rate among children increased from 29 to above 33 percent.
“That literally means that a third of the age under 18 that we test are positive,” said Alonso, who also, for the second week in a row, mentioned lung damage showing up even in children who are asymptomatic. “That is very important. We don’t know how that’s going to manifest a year from now or two years from now. Is that child going to have chronic pulmonary problems, [or] not? So this is not the virus you bring everybody together, catch, and get it over with.”