Children's Gasparilla Parade will go on, despite record pediatric COVID-19 infections

After taking a year off due to COVID-19, the pirate invasion is back, with the Children's Gasparilla Parade kicking off festivities this weekend in Tampa.

Organizers say they expect an even bigger crowd than year’s past, but the comeback falls in the middle of record case numbers, especially among children, due to the highly contagious omicron variant. 

"At this point, it's just ubiquitous. You have to assume that everywhere you go, there's COVID," said University of South Florida College of public health associate professor, Dr. Jill Roberts.

This particular wave of cases is different than the ones that put the brakes on Gasparilla last year. Vaccinations have helped reduce the number of people becoming seriously ill, and some experts believe the omicron variant is less likely to make the unvaccinated seriously ill, as well.

But with kids back in school, the virus is still spreading.

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According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, COVID-19 cases among children are increasing exponentially, reaching a new record high. 

For the week ending January 6, the association reports the U.S. had 580,247 new pediatric infections – a 78% increase compared to the previous week.

"We're seeing, unfortunately, record numbers, since the pandemic started, of kids," said Dr. Joseph Perno, chief medical officer at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. "Both pediatric patients coming to the E.R. who need to be tested and have symptoms and are positive, and the number of patients we're seeing who require hospitalization is higher than we've ever seen before in the pandemic."

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The CDC reports an average of 877 children were admitted to hospitals, sick with the virus, every day last week.

According to the Florida Department of Health, only 18% of children age five to 11 are vaccinated in Florida, and those under five are not eligible for a CVOID shot. Therefore, their defenses are lower than everyone else.

"Parents should think twice before putting their child in a risky situation," Perno said. "They should definitely consider masking when appropriate if the child is old enough to be masked. But I think we need to think twice, we're in a very, very bad spot right now."

The Children’s Gasparilla Parade will be broadcast on FOX 13 News and online at Saturday, January 22.