In Duval County, 45 kids have tested positive for coronavirus as of May 15. Twelve cases among children were confirmed within the past two weeks alone, six of them in the past week.
Overall, kids under 18 have accounted for just a small fraction of Jacksonville’s infections — 3.7% of the county’s confirmed COVID-19 cases. But with kids’ continuing to contract the virus that poses the biggest threat to older and immune-compromised people, schools and other organizations that serve children are proceeding with caution as some of them plan to welcome kids back to campuses in a matter of weeks.
Children who contract coronavirus have not typically suffered severe symptoms, said Dr. Mobeen Rathore, an infectious disease specialist with Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Baptist Health. But they are still as likely to contract it as any adult.
“They're less likely to be hospitalized, they're less likely to be in the ICU, they’re less likely to use a ventilator and they're less likely to die, but all of this is relative,” Rathore said.
Rathore said schools and summer camps need to be very careful to implement safety measures when welcoming kids back. That includes better sanitization, temperature checks of children and staff, and protecting kids who may be immunocompromised.
“It's important to understand it's not going to be the same way as it was before,” Rathore said.
On Friday, St. Johns County canceled its summer camp programs “after much consideration and in adherence to CDC recommendations and the State of Florida’s safety guidelines,” a county spokesman announced.
Meanwhile, the Bolles School, a private day and boarding school in Jacksonville, is among those preparing for kids to return this summer, in a limited capacity.
On May 23, the school will hold a graduation limited to just seniors and their parents, with small groups seated 6 feet apart. There won’t be a procession or graduation pictures at the ceremony.
The school will also host a summer camp. However, it will be vastly different than in years prior.
Drew Upchurch, the director of auxiliary programs at Bolles, said camp will include daily temperature checks, hand-washing stations, groups of just 10 or 12 kids, and eating packaged meals in classrooms.
“There won't be any meeting in any big common areas like in our lunch room with common sources like drink fountains, salad bars, a buffet line,” Upcurch said.
Right after Memorial Day weekend, the school will bring back athletes for off-season conditioning, but conditioning groups will also be limited, and coaches will be required to wear masks.
The summer activities will provide an opportunity to test out policies before the next Bolles school year starts in August, Upchurch said.
“And it gives ourselves a little bit of time to figure out what’s scalable, what works, and what doesn't work,” he said.
Other kids’ facilities have had to learn what works on the fly.
Jumpstart Pediatrics on Jacksonville’s Southside is what’s called a prescribed pediatric extended-care facility. They provide physical, occupational and speech therapy for medically complex kids. Because they’re considered essential businesses, they never closed.
Jumpstart owner and administrator Joni Hughes said none of the patients at her facility has tested positive for coronavirus, and her staff are being very careful.
“None of our employees are going to the beach, and things like that, because we know that we work with this fragile population of children,” Hughes said.
Apart from state and federal health care guidelines, Hughes said her staff has come up with additional safety measures. Children with fevers are sent home immediately, and after 72 hours, they need doctors’ notes to return.
“Because these children are medically fragile and complex, it's not unusual for them to develop a virus or an infection of some kind,” Hughes said, “but we want to make sure that if we’ve identified that someone has a fever that we send them home.”
It’s not clear whether other similar facilities have COVID-19 cases because the state doesn’t release that data. Florida Department of Health spokeswoman Samantha Epstein told WJCT News in an email, “The Florida Department of Health in Duval County is unable to verify the number of individuals who have been tested at PPECs” in order to protect “personally identifiable” patient information.
The state does give out the names of nursing homes and other “long-term care facilities” that have had confirmed cases, but the prescribed pediatric extended cares are not in that category.
WJCT News reached out to other PPEC facilities in Jacksonville. Fletcher’s Tendercare has two facilities. The Southside location confirmed there were no confirmed cases, while the Northside location did not give an answer.
Cassat Medical Daycare and All Kids Care of North Jacksonville have not responded either.
Of the 45 children who have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Duval County, 13 were under 5 years old, 14 were between 5 and 10, and 18 were between 11 and 17. Seven 18-year-olds in the county have also had coronavirus.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.