Florida doctors see 87% increase of COVID-19 cases in kids under 12

With rapidly rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Florida, Bay Area doctors are sounding the alarm for the least protected age group, children. 

Experts think this upsurge in cases is largely due to the delta variant, which is more infectious than previous strains. Most infections are among those who are unvaccinated.

It’s troubling for parents of kids under 12 who can’t get the coronavirus vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 22% of kids between 12 and 17-years-old are fully vaccinated.

The Sunshine State is quickly becoming a coronavirus hotspot, with high community spread. New COVID-19-19 infections nearly doubled last week, topping 45,000. The exponential increase of new cases is happening across every age group.

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"In children, less than 12 years of age, it was an 87% increase, and in those children who are 12 to 19 years of age, it was an 84% increase," explained Dr. Jason Salemi, associate professor of epidemiology at USF College of Public Health.

At Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, that has translated into an uptick in emergency room visits. The chief medical officer tells FOX 13 News a record number of pediatric patients are testing positive for COVID-19.

"Our last seven days, we've seen more patients than any other seven days since the pandemic began. So we're seeing a dramatic increase in kids," said Dr. Joseph Perno.

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In that week, 31 kids sick with the virus checked into the ER. Dr. Perno is now on high alert for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. The rare illness can occur after a COVID-19 infection and can be dangerous.

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"Those kids are ill. They typically need intensive care hospitalization. So it is definitely something we're concerned about. And it's one of the reasons we're preaching to those who can be vaccinated to get vaccinated," Perno said.

Children do tend to have more mild cases of coronavirus, doctors say, yet over the last month, hospitalizations statewide are also trending up, jumping from nearly 40 on July 1 to more than 100 last week.

A mother walks her child to school on the first day of in-person classes in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Experts say the time is now to get the shot and consider pulling the masks back out for you and your kids. 

"If we start to reimplement some of those preventive measures that we know are pretty effective in bringing down spread, I'm confident that we can get the numbers heading in a different direction. But if we don't take any action, I fear that the numbers are going to continue to increase," Dr. Salemi said.

Schools across the region head back from summer break next month, so there might not be enough time to get kids fully vaccinated before classes resume. But masking up and distancing can still prevent passing the virus onto someone more vulnerable.