JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that all youth activities would be allowed to reopen in the state of Florida, citing research showing that kids have a lower risk of contracting and acting as a vector for COVID-19.
“I’m pleased to announce today that effective immediately Florida will be lifting all restrictions on youth activities, including summer camps and athletics. We believe that this makes sense based on the data and observed experience,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to be instituting a lot of rules, or really any rules.”
The governor said that the decision to reopen these activities stemmed from parents being able to make the best decisions for their children’s health as the summer months approach.
“At the end of the day we trust parents to be able to make decisions in conjunction with physicians, community leaders and coaches to be able to do these activities in a way that are safe, but I think our kids have been out of organized activities for a couple of months now and I think that we need to have a pathway to get it back,” DeSantis said.
The governor said that he based his decisions partly on data indicating that children have a lower risk of contracting and developing a severe case of COVID-19.
“When you look at how the virus has affected the state of Florida, here’s some interesting statistics,” DeSantis said. “We in the state of Florida have observed zero fatalities under the age of 25 throughout the entire course of the pandemic. We have also observed more total fatalities for people age 90 or above than total fatalities for those under the age of 65 combined.”
News 6 could not independently verify those statistics given by the governor.
While fewer children may have died from COVID-19, health experts say they do face additional complications after having been infected as another disease called “multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.”
According to news partner Florida Today, Florida’s surgeon general has acknowledged that a syndrome that attacks children and is associated with COVID-19 has surfaced in Florida, adding yet another critical layer to diagnosing and treating the disease.
MIS-C manifests in people under age 21 who are positive for COVID-19 or have antigens or have been exposed to COVID-19 in the four weeks prior to the onset of symptoms.
News 6 spoke to Emergency Medicine Physician Rajiv Bahl, MD, who said that it’s too soon for children to begin playing together and having playdates.
“As children are having to stay indoors and practice social distancing as well, many parents are starting to question if it is OK to loosen restrictions on children. As difficult as it is, to make social distancing truly effective, there should not be any playdates as of yet,” Bahl said. " As more data and information comes out about the virus, children, including those that are very young, can develop the symptoms of COVID-19 or the more recent complication, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C)."
However Dr. Bonnie White, a pediatrician with Ascension Medical Group, said in the news conference with the governor that she felt it’s time for children to begin socializing again.
As the state slowly reopens its imperative that we don’t forget the children. They have been home for 3 months with no social interaction," White said. “But, it’s really important that we get our kids socializing again. They need to see their friends. They need to be outside running around and be active. They need to be able to laugh with their friends and they need to explore and learn from all of the talented teachers that we have out there.”
White said that when camps and activities do reopen “they obviously have to follow the strict precautions that have been recommended.”
“The temperature checks the good hand washing, possibly the masks, the social distancing as well as the parental due diligence,” White said. “If your child is sick, stay home.”
The Orlando Science Center will be hosting its popular STEM summer camps for children even though the facility has not yet reopened to the general public.
"Orlando Science Center is hearing from a number of caregivers who are really grateful for a quality program where they can register their children," said Jeff Stanford, the organization's vice president of marketing.
When the camp programs begin next month, Stanford said children and instructors will be required to wear masks until they break up into smaller groups, where social distancing practices will be enforced.
Staff will also check participants' temperatures upon arrival and parents will have limited access to the building.
"We take health and safety very seriously, even prior to the pandemic," said Stanford, who indicated Orlando Science Center will follow guidelines established by the CDC and the American Camp Association.
For families that do not yet feel comfortable sending their children to a group program or cannot attend, Orlando Science Center is also offering an online "virtual" summer camp.
“We’re trying to make it as normal of a summer as possible, but taking into account that it’s not a normal summer,” Stanford said.
Florida is still under “full phase one” of the governor’s plan to reopen the state which has seen restrictions roll back as more Floridians push to get back to work.
Hair salons, nail salons, barbershops and gyms were not initially slated to reopen under “phase one” of the governor’s plan, but after pushback, DeSantis modified his guidelines.
“I think that a lot of parents are going to be interested in having their kids being able to be involved in activities but at the same time this is a parents decision, no parent is required to have their kid, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, then don’t do it, and that’s fine,” DeSantis said. “And I think parents are in the best places to make those decisions.”
As of Friday, the Florida Department of Health reported 49,451 total cases of COVID-19 in the state since the disease was first detected in Florida March 1. FDOH also reports a total of 2,190 deaths as a result of the respiratory illness.