WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Health officials said COVID-19 cases are rising among children in Palm Beach County, ironically the same age group that's not yet eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
Speaking to commissioners on Tuesday, county health director Dr. Alina Alonso said 15% of new COVID-19 cases in Palm Beach County on May 16 were among 5- to 14-year-olds.
That's an increase from 10% of new cases in the same age group two weeks ago.
"We have more positive cases in this younger age group," Alonso said.
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Currently, anyone 12 and older is authorized to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only for those 18 and older.
Alonso said the increase in cases among children is particularly concerning because many of them are unable to get inoculated.
"This is a group that's gonna be the hardest to vaccinate," Alonso said. "This is where the problem lies, and this is where we have to concentrate our efforts, especially for these children that will not be able to get vaccinated yet."
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, 16,832 people in Palm Beach County between the ages of 16 to 19 have gotten the vaccine, which represents 26% of that age group in the county.
In an effort to get as many children vaccinated as possible, the Health Care District of Palm Beach County is hosting a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site all week in Lantana.
The site, located at 1250 Southwinds Drive, is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day through Friday.
These are walk-up vaccinations, so you don't need an appointment.
Medical professionals are administering the Pfizer vaccine, meaning children 12 and older can get inoculated on the spot. The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also being given at this pop-up site.
With the School District of Palm Beach County planning to return to traditional in-classroom instruction next school year and eliminate distance learning related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Commissioner Maria Sachs questioned whether the vaccine should be mandated for children.
"Only the private schools are able to do that," Alonso said. "At this point, there's no federal or state resolution to go in that direction."
Alonso advised against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for brick-and-mortar students in the public school system, saying it would be too controversial of a move.
"Especially now, anything that you mandate becomes a lot of resistance and, I think, detracts from the advantage of the vaccine," Alonso said. "We're living in a very unique time. And at this time, that would not be a recommendation."
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine for children, click here.
Alonso on Tuesday said she's concerned with the confusion among the public with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which now says fully vaccinated people don't need to wear facial coverings indoors in most cases.
"Unfortunately, the only thing that people hear is that vaccinated people don't have to wear a mask," Alonso said. "But the fact is, if you're not vaccinated, those masks are still recommended. Why? Because we have a ton of variants that are very contagious."
The health director emphasized that masks should still be worn in crowded settings like stadiums and restaurants.
"You should probably still have your mask on when you get up and go to the bathroom and do those things," Alonso said.
Despite her concerns, Alonso on Tuesday painted a more optimistic picture for Palm Beach County as a whole, saying the county has dropped from a "high" to "substantial" level of community transmission. Miami-Dade and Broward counties still remain "high."
"So far, we've been doing very good, and a lot of this is attributed to the vaccinations that we're giving," Alonso said. "We are very, very close to coming to an end."
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there have been 146,833 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,826 coronavirus-related deaths in Palm Beach County.
Starting on Tuesday, fully vaccinated people don't need to wear facial coverings inside most county-operated buildings. However, officials said the Tax Collector's Office is still requiring masks to do business, and the Property Appraiser's Office is expected to make an official announcement regarding masks soon.