The reported number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, one of the primary metrics for tracking the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, was grossly inflated for children in California hospitals, two research papers published Wednesday concluded. The papers, both published in the journal Hospital Pediatrics, found that pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 were overcounted by at least 40 percent, carrying potential implications for nationwide figures.
The implications of the findings of these two studies are enormously important, as reports of pediatric hospitalizations have regularly made headlines over the past year, greatly affecting public perceptions about risks to children. Untold numbers of parents have kept children home from school or limited playdates and other activities out of fear their children would be infected and fall seriously ill. The hospitalization numbers for children were already extremely low relative to adults — at the pandemic’s peak this winter, it was roughly ten times lower than for 18-to-49-year-olds and 77 times lower than those age 65 and up. But cutting the pediatric numbers by nearly half is a striking difference, making the actual rates vanishingly small. Pediatric hospitalization figures for COVID-19 also influence policy on school openings and guidelines, camp recommendations, and other political decisions. Gandhi and Beck’s commentary noted, “Children have suffered tremendously due to policies that have kept schools and recreational facilities closed to them, and the burden has been greatest on children who are low-income and English-language learners.”