While the debate over mask mandates in schools online and in courtrooms pays off, more COVID-19 cases are still being identified in schools in Central Florida, raising concerns among medical leaders and others in the community.
What you need to know
Pediatrician: COVID cases for kids to keep climbing until masks are mandatory
Mask mandates are the best option until children can be vaccinated, says doctor
If only a few people wear masks, it’s not effective, says Dr. Michael Muszynski:
Cases are already so widespread that some schools have had to temporarily close
Exposure to coronavirus led to the closure of Celebration K-8 School Tuesday, less than two weeks after students returned to the classroom. Just last week, the district reported 52 positive cases among students and 11 among staff.
On Monday, Orange County leaders reported a huge shift, saying for the first time that children ages 5 to 14 were responsible for the most new cases of coronavirus.
dr. Michael Muszynski, a specialist in infectious diseases in children, has been warning about an increase in the number of children for months.
“It’s no surprise to me,” Muszynski said. “We at the Florida Division of the American Academy of Pediatrics predicted that this would happen, especially if we went to school without masks and especially if there were no mask mandates.”
dr. Muszynski said the best way to protect against COVID-19 is with the vaccinations, but children under 12 are not yet eligible for the injection.
“So we have to fall back on the next most effective approach and that’s masks, but everyone has to wear them,” Muszynski said. “You defeat the purpose of indoor masks without them and people with them. It misses the mark.”
But Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning school districts from requiring masks for all students and staff has made it difficult to get everyone to wear one. Unless everyone starts wearing masks, the number of cases among children is likely to continue to rise, Muszynski said.
“If the logic baffles you why you would pull back your protective mechanisms that you knew were working last year, when we’re seeing more COVID than we’ve ever seen peaking and you go to school that way,” Muszynski said. “It defies all logic, and unfortunately I expect much more. This peak is not over yet. It is still raging.”
The increase has not gone unnoticed by Central Floridians.
“I just want to make sure we’re okay,” Orlando’s Danielle Denegreiros said as she and Melody Loyola waited in a long line of cars in Barnett Park on Tuesday afternoon to be tested for the virus.
Both have been vaccinated but said they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
They said they feel that many people in the community are no longer taking the pandemic seriously and are frustrated to see new cases increase, especially among children.
“It’s absolutely frustrating and very worrying,” Denegreiros said.
Loyola agreed that the spread of COVID among children is worrying. “Precautions must be taken,” she said.
Loyola said she believes bringing back mask mandates in schools could help.
“I mean, if it helps a little bit to reduce the cases or potential exposures, yes,” Loyola said.
Osceola County K-8 students are required to wear masks unless a parent signs them off, as are school staff. Masks are optional for high school students in Osceola County schools.