Even as overall cases in Florida decrease after a record spike – the state recorded more new coronavirus cases in August than at any other part of the pandemic – hospitalisations among children have increased.
Data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention suggest a 5.5 per cent increase in hospitalisations for people 17 and younger in the state over the past week.
Students in Texas are not faring much better; the state has one of the highest Covid-19 mortality rates in the country for people under 18, with 59 children dead. In the last several weeks the state has recorded more than 50,000 coronavirus cases in students.
Despite the state’s Republican legislature’s recent passage of an extremely restrictive abortion ban – ostensibly for the purpose of saving the lives of the unborn – its lawmakers have taken steps that have actively put children at risk.
The executive order flies in the face of recommendations from both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which both recommend that all students, staff and teachers wear masks during school to help prevent the spread of the especially-transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus.
A judge in Florida ruled that Mr DeSantis’s executive order was unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the state has moved on its threat to withhold the salaries for school administrators who violate the mask enforcement prohibition. The governor has challenged the ruling, which will be kicked up to the 1st District Court of Appeals for further review.
While battles play out in court and literal fights erupt at school board meetings over mask mandates, doctors in both states are warning that hospitals are quickly running out of ICU beds, including pediatric beds meant for child patients.
The Texas Department of State Health Services’s data suggests there are only 74 pediatric ICU beds open in the entire state. Even among regular ICU beds, only a few hundred are left to serve a state with a population of 29 million.
The situation in Florida is comparable. Data from the Hospital Utilisation dashboard from the Department of Health and Human Services suggests more than 93 per cent of the state’s ICU beds are currently occupied, with nearly half being used to treat Covid-19 patients.
Further complicating matters, several hospitals in Florida have reported they are running out of oxygen, which is key to treating Covid-19 patients who are struggling to breathe.
Doctors in both states have expressed frustration and exhaustion over the latest surge in coronavirus patients, most of whom are unvaccinated.
“Governor Abbott has failed us. A republican state legislature has failed us,” Dr David Portugal, a cardiologist in Sugarland, Texas, told Texas Public Radio. “These leaders should be held accountable and be asked to explain how they can justify taking actions that are killing their fellow Texans.”
Despite the pleas from health professionals, Mr Abbott and Mr DeSantis have maintained their opposition to mask mandates. Mr DeSantis has claimed numerous times that masking is not an effective way to deter the coronavirus, and Mr Abbott has insisted that “personal responsibility” take precedent over “government mandates.”
Dr Chad Sanborn, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Palm Beach Children’s Hospital, disagreed with his governor’s stance, saying that masking children was absolutely en effective mitigation tool for stopping coronavirus spread.
“Masks definitely decrease the spread among children,” he told the Associated Press. “They should be mandatory at schools.”
Childhood Covid-19 cases and deaths, while on the rise, still make up the smallest percentage of total deaths. Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics – drawn from 45 states, New York City, Puerto Rico and Guam – showed that childhood deaths account for less than 1 per cent of the overall mortality rate from Covid-19.
Children are overall less susceptible to the worst symptoms of Covid-19. However, they can still act as disease vectors. As the Delta variant of the coronavirus has a significantly higher transmissibility rate than previous variants, unmasked children packed into schools can still easily spread the virus around. While they may be resistant to symptoms, their parents, grandparents, or other adults they come into contact with may be susceptible, especially if they are unvaccinated.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged the US Food and Drug Administration to fast track emergency approval allowing children under 12 to take the coronavirus vaccine due to the increasing rate of infection.