Martin County has the highest COVID-19 positivity rate of children under 18 in Florida, the latest Florida Department of Health data showed Wednesday.
Over one in four children, or 25.3%, had tested positive as of Wednesday, the data shows. That’s 394 resident-children out of 1,555 tested since the onset of the pandemic.
But interpretations of these numbers — and what they mean as Martin schools are set to open Aug. 11 — vary between pediatricians, school and county health officials.
“There’s always a story behind the numbers,” said Renay Rouse, spokesperson for the state health department office in Martin County.
Increased testing in Indiantown in April is likely part of the reason the county’s pediatric positivity rate is so high, Rouse said.
“It certainly is a major factor when you look at what was happening in the community at the time,” Rouse said. “Pediatric testing wasn’t easy to come by.”
Coronavirus tests were not readily available for asymptomatic children and teenagers until May, but Indiantown’s Florida Community Health Center began offering free tests for all ages, regardless of symptoms, after virus cases exploded in Indiantown.
The center had tested 1,101 children as of Monday. Of those, 396 tests were positive, yielding a 36% positivity rate. While most of this testing occurred in Indiantown and East Stuart, not every child tested was a county resident.
Rouse also remarked on the county’s “pool size” of children tested in Martin County. Miami-Dade County, for comparison, has tested 30,712 children since the onset of the pandemic, but is still yielding a 19.6% positivity rate.
Pediatrician Tommy Schechtman, board member and regional representative for the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said regardless of numbers, schools need a sound plan to minimize the risk of transmission and keep children safe.
“I think we have to be concerned. The fact is, children do get sick. Thank goodness not as frequently, and not as severely,” Schectman told TCPalm Wednesday. “The number of mortality is extremely low, but it’s not zero … I think that all has ramifications of opening schools.”
In a six-hour school board meeting Tuesday night, school district officials and the teachers union could not agree on the start date for the 2020-21 school year. The School Board decided to reopen schools Aug. 11, despite Superintendent Laurie Gaylord’s recommendation to reopen Aug. 25 so schools have more time to prepare.
Some board members, such as Victoria Defenthaler, expressed their concern.
“You can see that (Martin County is) the highest in the state of Florida,” Defenthaler told fellow board members Tuesday night, citing the health department’s pediatric data. “Right now, we don’t know what it’s going to be like bringing these students back to school in a county where it’s a hot spot.”
Defenthaler said while some under-served students would benefit from in-person learning, the reopening efforts should be carefully organized.
She also cited the recent death of Kimorra Lynum, a Putnam County 9-year-old who is believed to be the state’s youngest COVID-19 death.
“We need to see this data at every meeting in order to make sure that we’re making the best educated opinion based on data,” she said. “And the data is not opinion. The data is what we need to go by.”
School districts should delay start dates until positive testing rates are lower in areas with an overall percent positivity averaging greater or equal to 5% over two weeks, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Florida chapter recommended in new guidelines announced Wednesday.
Because of a lack of access to pediatric testing, the academy is using an overall county percent positive average, counting both children and adults, in its recommendation, President Paul Robinson told TCPalm.
Martin County’s 14-day percent positive average, including adults, was 11.05%, according to the latest health department data as of Wednesday.
“If we were able to just take all kids in Martin County and do a test on all of them, we would all be amazed at how high the percent positive was,” Robinson said. “I think it’s probably under-reported in children” because many are asymptomatic, he said.
The academy also recommends, among other things, that:
- Schoolchildren should have updated vaccinations
- Students and teachers should keep a minimum 6 feet apart
- Schools should stagger start times.
“I really hope I’m wrong, but my prediction is, if (Martin County) goes back school with a percent positive rate (the county has) right now, schools will be closed again within two or three weeks.” Robinson said. “I would love being wrong, but that’s what I’m fearful of.”
More: TCPalm reporter shares coronavirus testing experience
Staff writer Joshua Solomon contributed to this report.
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Max Chesnes is a TCPalm reporter covering health, welfare and social justice on the Treasure Coast. You can keep up with Max on Twitter @MaxChesnes, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and give him a call at 772-978-2224.
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