Nearly one-in-three children tested for the new coronavirus in Florida has been positive, and a South Florida health official is concerned the disease could cause lifelong damage even for children with mild illness.
Dr. Alina Alonso, Palm Beach County’s health department director, warned county commissioners Tuesday that much is unknown about the long-term health consequences for children who catch COVID-19.
X-rays have revealed the virus can cause lung damage even in people without severe symptoms, she said.
“They are seeing there is damage to the lungs in these asymptomatic children. … We don’t know how that is going to manifest a year from now or two years from now,” Alonso said. “Is that child going to have chronic pulmonary problems or not?”
Her comments stand in contrast to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ messaging that children are at low risk, and classrooms need to be reopened in the fall. DeSantis has said he would be comfortable sending his children to school if they were old enough to attend.
Some studies suggest that children are less likely to catch COVID-19 than adults. Children are also far less likely to die of the disease. About 17,000 of Florida’s roughly 287,800 cases have been people younger than 18. Of the 4,514 COVID-19 deaths reported by Florida as of Tuesday, four have been younger than 18.
Still, it’s possible COVID-19 could have long-term consequences that will take time to understand, Alonso said.
“This is not the virus you bring everybody together to make sure you catch it and get it over with,” she said. “This is something serious, and we are learning new information about this virus every day.”
State statistics also show the percentage of children testing positive is much higher than the population as a whole. Statewide, about 31% of 54,022 children tested have been positive. The state’s positivity rate for the entire population is about 11%.
Researchers have linked a serious and potentially deadly inflammatory condition with COVID-19 in children. The condition, called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, doesn’t appear to be widespread. The Florida Department of Health lists 13 confirmed cases of the syndrome.
Dr. Jorge Perez, co-founder of Kidz Medical Services, said it’s too early to say how common and severe long-term damage could be from COVID-19, but early evidence suggests some children infected with the virus could have lasting damage.
“We are learning something every day,” said Perez, who operates pediatric offices throughout South Florida. “We have to be knowledgeable about this and continue to monitor to see what effects it has in children.”
DeSantis told talk radio host Rush Limbaugh last week that the risk to children is “very low.”
“I’ve got a 3-year-old daughter, 2-year-old son, and a newborn daughter,” DeSantis said in the radio interview. “And I can tell you if they were school age, I would have zero concern sending them.”