The state is lifting restrictions on kids’ participation in summer camps, athletics, and other activities, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday in Jacksonville.
He’s imposing no hard regulations to preserve children’s health against COVID-19, he said, preferring to leave that to local authorities, activities organizers, and parents. However, the state Department of Health will post best practices on its website, the governor said.
“I really trust the parents. I trust the physicians who work with the kids. I trust our local leaders. I trust the coaches and the people who are involved with these camps to really do things in a way that keeps people safe,” DeSantis said.
“I think that’s a much better approach than having the state government doing 100 rules for tennis camp. Because, you know what? Some of these things don’t end up being very sensible at all,” he added.
“When you do that and you overcook it, you end up getting less compliance with it. Because people just throw up their hands and say, ‘Some of this is ridiculous.’”
The guidelines will apply statewide, although local officials are free to impose stricter requirements, DeSantis said. It wasn’t clear how the move would affect public schools, which moved to distance learning during the pandemic.
As the governor appeared inside a basketball court in a city park with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Dr. Donna White, a pediatrician who treats the DeSantis children, Florida’s caseload hovered just below 50,000, with 9,117 hospitalizations and 2,190 deaths, according to the health department.
DeSantis, however, argued that since the state in early May began lifting restrictions on businesses and other places where people can gather and spread the virus, the numbers of ICU cases has declined by 26 percent and patients on ventilators had dropped by 34 percent.
Curry said parents stuck inside with their kids to observe social distancing guidelines have been pressing him with questions about the resumption of youth activities.
“Lets use data and facts, but let kids be kids,” Curry said.
White argued that social isolation has generated anxiety and depression among Florida’s children. Additionally, parents haven’t been bringing kids in for childhood immunizations, raising fears of outbreaks of measles and other diseases, she said.
“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,” she said.
White did urge respect for social distancing, use of face masks, frequent handwashing, and other precautions.
“If your child is sick, stay home,” she said.
The move followed reports that a children’s hospital in Jacksonville is monitoring two children who appear to be suffering from multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal illness among children exposed to the coronavirus.
“I think its something parents should consider. It is extremely rare,” DeSantis said, and not yet well understood.
“Our kids have been out of organized activities for a couple of months now, and I think we need to have a pathway to get it back,” he said.
DeSantis has been emphasizing that COVID poses a greater danger to the elderly and people with serious underlying conditions. The state has experienced “zero fatalities under the age of 25 throughout the entire course of the pandemic,” he said Friday.
Additionally, although not immune to the virus, children don’t appear to be infected or require hospitalization at the same rate as adults and don’t represent a major vector of infections by the novel coronavirus, he said.
In that, the virus seems to operate differently than influenza strains, which children can pass along, he said. Florida has seen more fatalities in people above 90 than the total for people under age 65, he added.
DeSantis noted that Florida kept day care facilities open throughout the pandemic, notwithstanding advice to the contrary by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He did it, he said, largely so that health workers would have child care.
“We didn’t see any major problems with the day cares,” he said.
“This is a parent’s decision. No parent is required to have their kid [participate]. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it, then don’t do it. And that’s fine. I think the parents are in the best places to make that decision.”