♪ this is "nightline." >> tonight -- >> it's my child! >> mask war. the brewing storm in the sunshine state. emerging as a epicenter. schools in session, mask mandates are out. now the act of defiance. >> the thought of losing any more staff, teachers, or students, i can't tolerate. i wouldn't be able to handle. >> we're on the front lines of a fight to free florida from the virus. >> we're going to make america great? we must vaccinate. plus sounding the alarm. why more kids sick with covid are being hospitalized. what you need to know about pediatric cases.
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this as the virus ravages florida. but the govern's controversial ban on mask mandates sparking fierce debate. here's abc's victor oquendo. >> repoter: this back-to-school season, it's the question parents across the country are facing. mask or no mask? >> okay, shar, we have to wear masks at school. you have to wear it all day because that's the way we stay the safest, okay? >> okay. >> reporter: for 5-year-old charlotte in florida, it's not just lunch and a backpack she's taking as she heads to kindergarten. but even with added protection her dad is worried. >> first week back. and feeling much trepidation. much trepidation about this current climate right now we face. >> reporter: despite the availability of vaccines, the nation is grappling with a fourth surge of covid-19 spurred by the delta variant, once again leading to a fierce debate over how states can best protect communities. the.s now averaging more than 110,000 new covid cases a day.
hospitals now admitting about 9,300 new patients on a daily basis. the most since february. with many americans and health care professionals asking how we found ourselves back here in yet another outbreak. >> what we're seeing clearly is that this virus is targeting those that are unvaccinated. the clear thing that we know now is that the unvaccinated people in this population are driving transmission, and ultimately creating risk for all of us. >> 93 million people in this country who are eligible for vaccination, who are not yet vaccinated, they give the virus a lot of leeway to circulate and ultimately perhaps be an even more difficult variant. >> reporter: the numbers are especially worrying in the sunshine state, where cases here hit record highs last week and pediatric hospitalizations are the highest in the country. even as cases skyrocket, masks are optional here. including in many schools. >> i think it's all politics.
i don't think it's about public health or the kids' health in florida. >> reporter: at the end of july, florida governor ron desantis issued an executive order banning mask mandates in schools, leaving the decision up to parents, not school districts. >> there will be no school closures. [ cheers and applause ] there will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of florida. [ cheers and applause ] >> when i first heard it, i would say i was not surprised. i will say that i was very disappointed. >> reporter: cody simon is a school superintendent. her district one of just two defying the governor's order and requiring all kids and educators to mask up. simon says two custodians from her district recently died from covid-related complications. >> the thought of losing any more staff, teachers, or a
student -- i can't tolerate. i wouldn't be able to handle. and the fact that i'm even at this place where i have to fight to not have dying children or dying staffmembers is so frustrating. >> we need to be nuanced and flexible in our recommendations and we need to be arming our schools with all the tools to make sure to keep kids safe. by banning masks, mask mandates, you are essentially creating unnecessary risk in schools. >> reporter: this week the state's education commissioner began investigating districts that defied the governor's order and mandated masks. >> this issue's been framed as a parent choice issue. we see this as an issue that is purely public health, purely public safety. the same way that someone is required to have a car seat for an infant in a car or required to have your kids wear seat belts in a car. >> reporter: charlotte's dad, charles gallagher, is part of a team of lawyers representing several families in a lawsuit seeking to block the governor's
executive order, arguing that it violates the florida constitution. >> safe schools are entitled to all floridians. we're not talking about there may be a risk going forward if kids aren't masked, we're talking about day one, on the campus, they face danger, they face peril. >> reporter: the debate over masking at school is playing out all across the country. in texas, districts there are also rebelling against governor greg abbott's ban on mask mandates. but in tennessee, there was chaos and anger outside a school board meeting. hecklers following and yelling at health care professionals who spoke about the benefits of masks. >> we know who you are! we know who you are! >> reporter: california becoming the first state to order all public school teachers and staff to be vac nated or be regularly tested. back in florida, simon says so far, parents have been largely positive about the masking rules. but a small vocal group is
refusing. >> there's definitely backlash. i've been called many names. my staff have been threatened. i had one parent yesterday who dropped off their child without a mask. and then refused to answer the phone for the entire day. so their child sat in the clinic. we have adult disagreements, and bringing the kids in the middle is just not beneficial at all. >> everyone in the school system should be wearing a mask. i know there's controversy about masks but i'd rather have a somewhat uncomfortable child wearing a mask than a child in the icu. >> reporter: it's a familiar scene. hospitals here struggling to keep up with the surge. [ alarm ] >> what does that neen. >> thatwhat does that mean? >> that's a code. a patient, no blood pressure, or oxygenation is bad, or heart rate went to zero. >> how often does that happen?
>> every day. >> multiple times a day? >> multiple times a day. >> reporter: they're seeing patients get sicker faster, nearly all unvaccinated. >> this surge is bigger than anything we've seen before. >> reporter: 38-year-old ian woods was waiting to get vaccinated. he's been in the hospital now more than a week. >> any message to people who, like you, were on the fence about getting the vaccine? >> i would say, don't be afraid to get it, just go ahead and get it. it's worth it. i mean, i wish i'd godden it. otherwise, i probably wouldn't have wound up in the hospital like this. >> reporter: now some local leaders are stepping up to do their part to keep people out of the hospitals. >> we do give you thanksgiving in praise -- >> reporter: pastor marcel davis in pensacola. >> the hospitals are overflowing here. we took it -- a step to say, we've got to get ahead of this. >> reporter: on this day, pastor davis teamed up with the county commissioner and a local health group to give out back-to-school supplies, encouraging his
community to get vaccinated. >> we've done over 25,000 vaccinations. and we're not letting up. >> reporter: chandra smiley is ceo of community health northwest florida, working to educate a population that is still hesitant about the vaccine. >> we're dealing with a younger group. when we were vaccinating our 65 and olders, i think they were lining up around the building. as those ages dropped, we started to see the hesitancy creep in. >> i think that we have been dealing within our area a lot of misinformation. >> reporter: to pastor davis it's about cutting through the politics and focusing on what he can do to help. >> we've got to get serious about this and stop making this a political issue and say, this is a mankind issue. and we have to love our neighbors as ourselves. let's take the politics out of it. it doesn't matter if you're republican or democrat. this virus does not show up at your doorstep and ask what political party you're with. this virus comes in and takes over and wreaks havoc on
families. >> reporter: mom of two erika douglas took this as an opportunity to get her 15-year-old son vaccinated before going back to school. >> he plays in the band. he likes to be around his family and his friends. so we felt that the pfizer vaccine was an added layer of protection for him. >> reporter: even though masks are still optional in many schools, she says her family will continue to focus on keeping themselves safe. >> continue to social distance. continue to wear their masks. to get vaccinated once it's appropriate for them to do so. and that's all that we can really do as parents. we are responsible for the health and well-being of our children, so that's what we'll continue to do. >> my message to the rest of the country is, don't hesitate. vaccinate. if we're going to make america great again, we must vaccinate. >> reporter: for "nightline," i'm victor oquendo in gainesville, florida. >> our thanks to victor. coming up, what you need to know about the delta variant.
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♪ the cdc reports new pediatric covid hospitalizations nationwide are now four times higher than just a month ago. to explain what is happening, earlier this evening i spoke with two pediatricians. dr. richard besser, president and ceo of the robert wood johnson foundation. and dr. mark kline, physician in cheer at children's hospital, new orleans. thanks so much for joining us. dr. besser, first question to
you. we know the likelihood of severe illness in children is low, but now we're seeing a surge in children being hospitalized. why is this happening? >> byron, the infection doesn't have to be any more severe when you're seeing millions of children infected. so even with a strain like delta, not being more severe, the fact that millions of children are being infected means that some of those children will end up in the hospital, and unfortunately some of those children will die. it's so important that we show humility about what we know about this virus and the infection and the potential long-term consequences from that. >> and dr. besser, to that point, the cdc says nearly half of the pediatric hospitalizations are in children with no underlying conditions. what does this tell us about the delta variant, and is it affecting young people differently? >> well, i think what it says to me as a general pediatrician is that we have to take it
seriously. and we have to do all we can to reduce the chances children will get infected. that starts with, as parents, getting our questions answered and hopefully making the decision to get vaccinated. because that will do the most to protect our kids. >> dr. kline, i'll turn to you now. you're based in new orleans where you're being hard hit with new cases and hospitalizations. i understand your hospital is admitting higher rates of children now compared to earlier in the pandemic. can you tell us what you're seeing? >> well, on the outpatient basis at our ambulatory care sites, about 25% of the children we test are covid positive. about 20% of the new cases of covid-19 in the state of louisiana now are children and adolescents under 17 years of age. so we know that there is widespread and rampant community spread. at the same time, as dr. besser mentioned, we're seeing a smaller number of children but a substantial number admitted to
the hospital. about twice as many as we had seen at any other time during the pandemic. and a good number of those are very young. half are under 2 years of age. half, as you said, byron, are without any kind of underlying condition. and some have been admitted to the intensive care unit, and sadly, we have had one death at the hospital during this current surge. >> my lord. dr. kline, i know covid has taken a toll on your hospital, as you've laid out for us. how has your staff been affected, how are they holding up? >> it's been very difficult. the staff are feeling weary, but they're hanging together well. and they continue to do their best day in and day out and deliver the best care that they possibly can. >> doctor, i understand you've had 60 staffers out sick and hhs had to bring in reinforcements. what has it been like for you? >> what has become limiting is the availability of staff to provide the care. it's no longer protective
equipment or ventilators or it's the availability of staff. and we struggled in particular with nurses. and so that has limited our ability to staff beds. and so the disaster team from health and human services that has arrived in the past few days is tremendously helpful for us. 14 are on the ground now and 10 more are in orientation. they're helping us in the emergency department and in our intensive care units, so we're really grateful for that help. >> dr. kline, what concerns you most now? it's only getting hotter in louisiana, as other parts of the south. what concerns you now moving into late august, the fall, when kids go back to school? >> well, we are worried about schools starting up. thankfully our governor, john bel edwards, issued a mask mandate eight days ago that includes schools, all children 5 years of age and up, as well as the teachers and staff. we really felt that he threw us
a lifeline with that particular order. so that's fortunate. but we're still worried that we're going to see some additional cases that come out of the schools. w're worried about the looming flu season that's going to be coming up within the next couple of months. we had a very light flu season last year. we think the upcoming flu season could be heavy. >> dr. besser, children under 12 still cannot be vaccinated. what do you say for parents waiting for approval and when can we expect authorization? >> yeah, you know, i think it's to be determined when we're going to see the authorization from fda, how much data they want to see. it's important that they're able to do their job so that when they finally do make a decision about authorization, you know, as a pediatrician i'll feel comfortable recommending it to my patients and parents will feel comfortable giving it to their children. >> dr. pes besser, in some plac we're seeing huge debate over
masks in schools. where do you come down on this, and what's the best way to keep children safe? >> i think the best place for children this fall is in school, learning. but it's so important that schools are able all of the layered approaches that the ve in ple. you're going to see schools that have improved ventilation, they're separating desks, they're doing testing, they're requiring their staff and teachers to be vaccinated. another piece of that is masks. so i've been pleased to see that some governors who had said no to mask mandates are changing their mind. even if you're in a state where there is no mask mandate, you have the ability as a parent to ensure that your child is protected and they're hoping protect others. please send them to school with a mask and encourage others to do the same. >> dr. besser, final question to you. i know you're not in the business of predicting the future, but with that said, how long do you expect this covid surge to last? >> well, you know, i'm looking to data from europe. it looks like the delta variant comes up very steeply, then
starts to come down. but this fall is going to be really challenging. you can't predict when this is over. that's the truth about a new infectious agent as it's spreading, it's the truth about a pandemic. so we have to prepare people for the fact that guidance will change as the situation changes, and that's a good thing. and hopefully as this winter draws to a close, we'll be seeing this pandemic receding into the background. >> dr. besser, dr. kline, grateful for you both, godspeed to you both, thank you so much. >> thank you. >> thanks so much, byron. up next, from rehab to release to running wild and free. like many people with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis or crohn's disease, i was there. be right back. but my symptoms were keeping me from where i needed to be. so i talked to my doctor and learned humira is the #1 prescribed biologic
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finally tonight, lending a helping hand. this adorable green sea turtle is getting a little pick me up. staff at brevard zoo in satellite beach, florida, finding the youngster stranded on the beach. they named him brother and took good care to help him heal. it sure worked. after 11 weeks of rehab, the