As the debate over mask mandates in schools wages online and in courtrooms, more COVID-19 cases in schools continue to be identified across Central Florida, raising concerns among medical leaders and others in the community.

What You Need To Know

  • Pediatric specialist: Children's COVID cases to keep climbing until masks are required

  • Mask mandates are the best option until kids can get vaccinated, doctor says

  • If only some people wear masks, it's not effective, Dr. Michael Muszynski says

  • Cases already are so widespread that some schools must close temporarily

Exposure to coronavirus led to Celebration K-8 School’s closure Tuesday, less than two weeks after students returned to the classroom.  Just last week, the district reported 52 positive cases in students and 11 in staff members.

On Monday, Orange County leaders reported a massive shift, saying for the first time that children 5 to 14 years old accounted for the most new cases of coronavirus.  

Dr. Michael Muszynski, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, has been warning the surge among children could happen for months.

“It’s not a surprise to me,” Muszynski said. “We at the Florida chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics predicted this would happen, especially if we went to school without masks and especially if mask mandates weren’t in place.”

Muszynski said the best way to protect against COVID-19 is with the vaccinations, but children younger than 12 years old aren’t yet eligible to get the shot.

“So we’ve got to fall back on the next most effective approach and that is masks, but everyone has to wear them,” Muszynski said. “You defeat the purpose of masks indoors without them and people with them. It defeats the purpose of it.”

But Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning school districts from requiring masks on all students and staff members has made it tough to get everyone to wear one. Unless everyone starts wearing masks, case numbers among children will likely continue to rise, Muszynski said. 

“If baffles the logic why you would pull back your protective mechanisms that you knew worked last year when we’re seeing more COVID than we’ve ever seen in any spike and you start school that way,"  Muszynski said. "It defies logic, and I’m expecting a lot more to come unfortunately. This spike is not over. It’s still raging."

The surge hasn't gone unnoticed by Central Floridians.

“I just want to make sure that we’re fine,” Orlando resident Danielle Denegreiros said as she and Melody Loyola waited in a long line of cars at Barnett Park on Tuesday afternoon to get tested for the virus.

Both are vaccinated but said they were exposed to someone with COVID-19.

They said they feel many people in the community are no longer taking the pandemic seriously, and they’re frustrated to see new cases rising, especially in children.

“It’s definitely frustrating and very concerning,” Denegreiros ​said. 

Loyola agreed that the spread of COVID among children is concerning. “Precautions have to be taken,” she said. 

Loyola said she believes bringing back mask mandates in schools could help.

“I mean, if it’s going to help a little bit to reduce the cases or potential exposures, yes,” Loyola said. 

Osceola County K-8 students are required to wear masks unless a parent opts them out, as are school staff. Masks are optional for high school students in Osceola County schools.