Quarter of New COVID Cases in Florida Among Those 19 or Younger as School Mask Debate Rages

One in four new COVID-19 infections in Florida are occuring among young residents between the ages of 0 and 19, data released by state's health department show.

Between August 13 and August 19, the state saw a total of 150,118 new COVID-19 cases. Of those infections, 20,331 occurred in people under the age of 12, and 17,310 occurred in people between the ages of 12 and 19. The Tampa Bay Times first reported on the newly released data.

The high rate of infections among younger Floridians comes as state officials and some school districts are at odds over a ban on mask mandates in schools.

COVID-19 Cases Rise Among Young Florida Residents
Student wear face masks as they attend their first day in school after summer vacation at the St. Lawrence Catholic School in north of Miami, on August 18. One in four new Covid-19 cases are now occurring among younger residents ages 0-19. Chandan Khanna

On July 30, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an order prohibiting school officials from issuing mask mandates. But several school districts have defied the governor.

On Wednesday, the Hillsborough County School District voted to authorize a 30-day mask mandate after nearly 1,500 students became infected with COVID-19 over the last two weeks.

School officials in Broward and Alachua counties have also issued mask mandates. On Friday, state officials threatened to withhold funds equal to the salaries of the board members if Broward County and Alachua County don't revoke their mandates and allow parents to opt-out of masking their children.

"We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow," said Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said in a statement on Friday.

"These are the initial consequences to their intentional refusal to follow state law and state rule to purposefully and willingly violate the rights of parents. This is simply unacceptable behavior," he added.

State data also show that Florida reported nearly 1,500 COVID-19 deaths between August 13 and 19, which marks a 141 percent increase from two weeks prior, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Florida's hospitals are currently strained as patients fill up intensive care units. The Florida Hospital Association predicted Tuesday that only 8.2 percent of the state's ICU beds were available, and said that 75 percent of the state's hospitals are expected to face a "critical staffing shortage" in the next week.

DeSantis has come under criticism for his recent response to the pandemic in Florida. In a letter earlier this month, more than 800 Florida doctors urged him to end his opposition to mask mandates.

"As the virus burns through Florida, health care providers feel we are fighting this fire without any leadership from Gov. Ron DeSantis. Blocking communities from making local decisions to protect themselves with his top-down, one-size-fits-all edict will only make matters worse," the letter read.