WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Get vaccinated and make sure your child wears a mask in school.
That was the urgent message from a Palm Beach County pediatrician on Tuesday who said her office is seeing a "huge surge" in the number of children testing positive for COVID-19.
"We're heading into more of the unknown," said Dr. Shannon Fox-Levine of Palm Beach Pediatrics. "Our prediction is that [COVID-19] is going to continue to be spread very quickly through the pediatric population."
Fox-Levine spoke to WPTV journalist Ryan Hughes and took questions from viewers in a live discussion on the WPTV Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.
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According to Fox-Levine, 20% to 40% of symptomatic pediatric patients have tested positive for COVID-19 in her practice on any given day over the last two weeks.
In June, only 2% of symptomatic patients tested positive.
Fox-Levine said the surge is due, in part, to the highly contagious delta variant, which she said has led to more coronavirus cases in children compared to a year ago.
But Fox-Levine admitted that for the most part, a majority of the children who've tested positive either did not have vaccinated parents, or if they were 12 and older, were not vaccinated themselves.
In addition, she has not seen breakthrough cases in any of her patients or their immediate family members who have been vaccinated.
"Most of these people that are positive have family that have either not been vaccinated and shared it with them, or the parents have been vaccinated and the child wasn't and got [COVID] from camp or daycare," Fox-Levine said.
With the 2021/22 academic year set to begin in less than two weeks and all local school districts planning a full return to in-classroom instruction, Fox-Levine is urging everyone 12 and older to get vaccinated, and for all students and staff members to wear facial coverings inside school buildings.
"This vaccine is safe. This vaccine is effective. There have been so many doses given that if there were a problem with the vaccine, we would know now seven months into it. And we're not uncovering any of those problems," Fox-Levine said. "What else are we gonna do? We need to get control over this virus before it mutates again."
Fox-Levine added it's best for children to be in the classroom, and advised parents who are nervous to consider the mental health toll that isolated virtual education can take on students.
"The kids need to be back in school," Fox-Levine said. "Need to be as safely as possible back in school, which means wearing their masks, having vaccines if they can, teachers being vaccinated, hand washing protocols."
Fox-Levine is hoping that children under 12 will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year, saying it realistically won't happen until November or December.
"It takes longer to test children in that age group," Fox-Levine said. "Because there's different criteria that the clinical trials have to go through to be able to prove that they're safe and effective for children."
Until then, Fox-Levine advised parents to keep your children home from camp, daycare, or school if they're sick, limit their contact to smaller groups of people, and have as many people as possible in your household vaccinated.
"How are we going to now try to put the brakes on this as much as we can to be able to protect everyone in our community?" Fox-Levine said. "We all have to band together as a community and really try to help one another protect those children less than 12 until they are able to be vaccinated."