Healthy Children in Florida Increasingly Getting Sick With COVID As Over 170 Hospitalized

The highly contagious Delta variant of COVID is sending an increasing number of children to hospitals in Florida, amid record-breaking figures being reported in the state.

According to data shared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday, Florida has the highest number of children hospitalized from COVID of any state in the country, with 172 currently being treated in medical facilities.

That figure is an increase from the 143 children hospitalized from COVID in Florida at the end of last week, as Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious-disease expert at Florida International University, told CNN on Friday evening that the facilities are struggling to cope.

"The numbers of cases in our hospitals in children and our children's hospitals are completely overwhelmed," Marty said about the increasing amount of children hospitalized.

"Our pediatricians, the nursing, the staff are exhausted, and the children are suffering. And it is absolutely devastating ... Our children are very much affected. We've never seen numbers like this before."

Dr. Kenneth Alexander, chief of the infectious diseases division at Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando, Florida, echoed Marty's comments to ABC affiliate WFTV on Friday and revealed that one child died last week while another is on a ventilator at the medical facility.

"The youngest patient who's in our hospital right now on a ventilator has no particular risk factors. The child that died had some complex underlying medical problems," Alexander said. "Unlike early in the pandemic, when the virus didn't seem to do much in kids, now it's making kids sick."

Nemours reported that seven children were receiving treatment at its facility on Friday, with two of the patients in the ICU, while the nearby Arnold Palmer Hospital had eight children at the medical center.

The number of children suffering badly from COVID has also increased recently in several other states, with Arkansas and Tennessee reporting that three children and two minors have now died over the last month respectively after contracting the virus.

The increase in children hospitalized in Florida comes as schools all across the state reopen for the beginning of the academic year this week, with Governor Ron DeSantis prohibiting academic facilities from introducing face mask requirements.

However, several school districts in the state have implemented face mask mandates for the start of the school year, despite DeSantis' executive order threatening their funding if they defy the order.

The use of face masks by students is in line with a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which advises teachers, students and other staff members to wear face coverings in schools.

The most recent figures for the state showed that Florida once again broke its record for the amount of hospitalizations from COVID on Friday, with 13,747 in medical facilities and 2,750 patients in intensive care.

The state also saw 93 people die from COVID on Friday, down from 199 the day before, while 43 percent of the state's ICU beds were taken up by COVID patients, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Florida 23,903 new COVID cases as of Friday, according to data released on Saturday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breaking Thursday's record of 22,783 new positive tests.

Children with COVID symptoms increasing in Florida
Paramedic Randy Lilly, wearing personal protection equipment (PPE), tends to a 10-month-old boy with fever while riding by ambulance with the infant's mother to Stamford Hospital on April 4, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. Pediatricians in Florida have revealed that the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID is sending an increased number of children to hospital to require treatment from the virus, amid record-breaking hospitalizations in the state. John Moore/Getty Images