LAKE COUNTY, Fla. — For weeks, doctors have said the COVID-19 Delta variant is a game changer for those under 18 — not because they are starting to see younger people being hospitalized, but because they are now getting sicker and contracting COVID-19 more frequently than this time a year ago.

What You Need To Know

  • Many doctors beleive that the COVID-19 delta variant is a serious threat to children

  • Across the country, the number of hospitalized children from birth to 4 years old has more than doubled since this time last year

  • The rate of hospitalized 5 to 17-year-olds has nearly doubled in the same timeframe

Lake County-based pediatrician Dr. Mohammed Afzal is voicing concerns about the increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases.

Stay-at-home mom Dana Ammendolea is sending her oldest son, Henry, to VPK next week, but her yonger son, Miles, who was born in March of last year, will stay home.

“We have been vaccinated ourselves, as has my parents, my sister, my brother, so we feel we have done enough to protect the adults in the family,” Ammendolea said, pushing her two sons on a swing at the park. “The children should be fine.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the final week of July 2020, newborns to age 17 accounted for .9% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations nationwide.

In the final week of July this year, however, the rate for newborns to 4 was 2.1%; 5-17 was 1.6%.

Afzal believes those numbers will only continue to get worse as the virus continues to mutate.

“The more this virus spreads, there are chances we will have more variants,” he said. “The fear is that one of those variants may be able to evade the vaccine, and that would be a problem.”

Ammendolea said she is not too concerned with her child catching the coronavirus in school, but does admit she monitors COVID-19 numbers and statistics.

“I try to keep my ear open if it is getting worse for the children,” she said.

When asked what his medical opinion would be on sending children to school, Afzal recommended parents do whatever they can to protect them.

“It is important for the children to go to school, but all 12 years and older, they should get vaccinated,” he said. “Parents should encourage to put a mask on.”

For children not eligible to receive a vaccine, Afzal urges as much social distancing as possible. For parents like Ammendolea, she hopes her son will enjoy going to school, but stays safe as he does.

“Live your life, do the best you can, and that’s all you can do with any kind of diseases,” she said.

Afzal suggested that schools have rapid COVID-19 tests on hand and available for school nurses on campus, to help limit the spread of the virus. He also said parents need to understand that if a child is hospitalized for COVID-19 its because a doctor feels the need to place them there, and that it’s not done at the request of a parent.