DeSantis at odds with doctors over mask mandate, children in hospitals

Published: August 10, 2021 6:03 PM EDT
Updated: August 11, 2021 1:03 PM EDT

Gov. Ron DeSantis is doubling down on his stance against mask mandates, but doctors are firm on their position too, saying that children are suffering from COVID-19.

During a press conference in Surfside on Tuesday morning, DeSantis pointed to stats saying the delta variant is not causing more kids to get very sick.

“You’ve not seen a change in the proportion of young people who wind up being admitted,” DeSantis said. “If you believe in the masking in the schools, you are free to do it. No one is saying you can’t, but if you are someone that is concerned about it and you think that maybe it’s not the right thing for your child, then I think you should have the right to make that ultimate decision.”

While doctors at Golisano Children’s Hospital can’t speak directly to DeSantis’ stats, they can speak to what they see every day.

With 38 years of caring for children in the ICU, Tami Anderson thought she’d seen it all.

Until now.

“Our units are full,” said Anderson, charge nurse leader of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Golisano. “Our intensive care unit is full. We are tired.”

The pandemic has been challenging, she said.

“But I think what we’ve seen the last week and a half is unprecedented even for us.”

Dr. Salomon Abitbol has seen an increase, too.

“If you admit as many children in one night than you’ve had the whole entire year, that’s kind of got to tell you something,” said Abitbol, a pediatric hospitalist.

“It’s pressure put on the pediatric ward because we are not expecting a previously healthy child to suddenly get sick.”

Golisano currently has 14 children in the hospital, with four of them in the ICU.

Throughout the pandemic, the hospital averaged one or two kids with COVID at a time.

Seeing more kids so much sicker takes a toll on the nurses who care for them.

For Anderson, it’s been a rough time.

“We are resilient,” she said. “We come back fighting every day, but these kids are personal to us.”

“They are not just kids, they are our family, they are our kids.”

While DeSantis questions the effectiveness of masks and stands firm against mandates, he said “it’s about parental choice, not government mandate.”

Meanwhile, doctors hope parents will think about what’s happening within the walls of their hospital.

“Masking right now, when our numbers are so high, it’s vitally important, and so I urge you, even though there are opt-out options, I urge you as parents to continue holding off on opting out,” said Dr. Stephanie Stovall, pediatric infectious disease specialist and interim chief of Quality and Patient Safety for Lee Health.

With the start of school, doctors fear more children could become sick.

“This is affecting our children and we want to do everything we can to protect our children as school begins,” said Lee Health President and CEO Larry Antonucci.

One doctor told WINK News that the youngest child they treated was 5 weeks old. He added that of all of the kids he’s treated, none of their parents or guardians were vaccinated.