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Child hospitalizations from Covid-19 surge 23% in Florida as schools statewide must reopen

(CNN) Just weeks before schools must open across Florida, the numbers of new cases and hospitalizations due to Covid-19 have surged.

On July 16, the state had a total of 23,170 children ages 17 and under who had tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Florida Department of Health. By July 24, that number jumped to 31,150.

That's a 34% increase in new cases among children in eight days.

And more children in Florida are requiring hospitalization. As of July 16, 246 children had been hospitalized with coronavirus. By July 24, that number had jumped to 303.

That's a 23% increase in child Covid-19 hospitalizations in eight days.

During that same time period, the death toll among children in Florida went from 4 to 5.

On July 18, Kimora "Kimmie" Lynum died from Covid-19 complications, according to state health department records. The 9-year-old girl's family said Kimmie had no known pre-existing conditions.

The surges in child Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations come amid rampant debate over whether children should return to classrooms this fall, or if they should continue remote learning.

They also directly contradict US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' claims that children are "stoppers of the disease" who "don't get it and transmit it themselves."

Researchers in South Korea found that young people between ages 10 and 19 transmit the virus just as easily as adults.

And White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx has repeatedly said scientists are still studying how quickly children under the age of 10 can spread the virus, as many of them have stayed home and away from their peers during peak months of this pandemic.

But it's not just the numbers of new cases and hospitalizations that are rising in Florida. The test positivity rate among children has gone up, too -- from 13.4% to 14.4% between July 16 and 24, according to the state health department.

The test positivity rate for children was particularly high in Martin County (25.3%) and Miami-Dade County (19.6%).

But the state has ordered schools to physically open next month. In some districts, that means sending children to school in as soon as two weeks. And that has some parents, educators, and doctors on edge.

"I do understand the need for opening up the schools," said Dr. Andrew Pastewski, a father and medical director of the intensive care unit at Jackson South Medical Center in Miami.

"Kids need to develop, they need to grow, they need to learn, they need to develop social skills," he said. "However, we're surging right now. I would not think opening up during a surge was the right time."

CNN's Maeve Reston contributed to this report.