Yesterday, while scrolling through my news feed, I ran across a rather alarming headline from NBC news. It declared that COVID hospitalizations among children were rising. That would be a particularly worrisome development because we have long been operating on the assumption that children were the least likely to be infected with the novel coronavirus and, even if they were, they tend to experience the least severe symptoms. Also, most of the new cases are from the Omicron variant at this point, and that strain is supposed to be considerably “milder” to begin with. But you don’t have to dig all that far into the NBC article to find that the headline is more than a little disingenuous. First of all, the raw numbers they are talking about are far from alarming.
In the last four weeks, the average number of children hospitalized with Covid-19 jumped 52 percent, from a low of 1,270 on Nov. 29 to 1,933 on Sunday, according to an NBC News analysis of Department of Health and Human Services data.
In the same time period, adult Covid hospitalizations increased 29 percent, suggesting that pediatric hospitalizations rose at nearly twice the rate.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this and say that a doubling of the number of children hospitalized with COVID isn’t disturbing (and the “with” is important, as we’ll discuss in a moment). But we’re talking about 1,933 children here. That’s not 1,933 children in one city or one county or even one state. That’s in the entire country of 330 million people. And more than 73 million of those Americans are under the age of 18. That works out to a hospitalization rate of .00000026.
The overblown nature of the headline is further revealed in NBC’s interviews with medical experts and a closer look at the definitions they are using. They spoke with Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He started off by saying that COVID is a winter virus and it was “inevitable” that we would see more cases during this season. But then he completely contradicted the premise of the article with a quote that shocked me so much that I blasted it out on Twitter last night.
However, he said, his hospital has seen a lot of kids test positive for Covid without necessarily showing symptoms or getting sick.
“We test anybody who’s admitted to the hospital for whatever reason to see whether or not they have Covid, and we’re definitely seeing an increase in cases. However, we’re really not seeing an increase in children who are hospitalized for Covid or in the intensive care unit for Covid,” Offit said.
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