ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Masks will be optional when most Florida students return to the classroom although doctors are reporting an influx of pediatric COVID-19 cases, raising concerns about the start of school.

“Oh yeah. As soon as we open the schools it will be, there will be, a lot of spreading, yes,” said Dr. Normaliz Rodriguez at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

The hospital is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases among children. In June, there were only 11 positive cases at the hospital. In July, there were at least 113.

“So once we put all of those children in a small space we’re going to see that exponentially increased, and we’re already seeing extremely high numbers, and I unfortunately only expect that to get worse when schools open. Especially if we’re choosing not to mask,” Dr. Rodriguez said.

Although children aren’t at higher risk of getting sick compared to adults, doctors say there can be other complications. There are still questions about the long term effects of COVID-19 on children.

“And people think that COVID is benign in children—that’s not the case. Yes they get serious illness at a lower rate than adult patients, but we are seeing a lot of adolescents, teenagers, etc. getting significant serious illness like respiratory distress, having to be hospitalized, in our ICU’s, ending up with encephalitis, myocarditis, and severe illness,” said Dr. Rodriguez.

As school districts keep masks optional for students, medical experts are urging parents to make it mandatory for their kids.

“If it’s your child that gets severely ill, for you that is exceptionally significant and matters right if it was your baby, your adolescent child that is now hospitalized, that matters,” said Dr. Rodriguez.

Like most health officials, pediatricians are asking adults to get vaccinated. This not only helps keep children safe, but seeing as they tend to be spreaders of all germs and viruses, it will help protect grandparents, family members or people in poor health.

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