Delicious: WaPo hits Sotomayor with 100,000 Pinocchios

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Naaah, it was only four, but it’s more fun to use Sonia Sotomayor’s math. Glenn Kessler did what the Supreme Court justice apparently didn’t bother to do and checked the actual figures from the CDC, as well as his own common sense. The fact-check delivers the maximum number of Pinocchios, even though it doesn’t address all of Sotomayor’s ignorant questioning last week:

But then Sotomayor went off the rails: “We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition and many on ventilators.”

That’s wildly incorrect, assuming she is referring to hospitalizations, given the reference to ventilators. According to HHS data, as of Jan. 8 there are about 5,000 children hospitalized in a pediatric bed, either with suspected covid or a confirmed laboratory test. This figure includes patients in observation beds. So Sotomayor’s number is at least 20 times higher than reality, even before you determine how many are in “serious condition.”

Moreover, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been less than 100,000 — 82,843 to be exact — hospital admissions of children confirmed with covid since Aug. 1, 2020.

Still, the current seven-day average (Dec. 30-Jan. 5) is 797, which is a sharp increase from the week before (441) and represents the peak seven-day average for children, the CDC said. So Sotomayor is not wrong to suggest the rate of pediatric admissions is cause for concern. On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported a sharp rise in pediatric cases, with many of the children unvaccinated. (Some children are hospitalized for other reasons and then test positive for covid through screenings at the hospital.)

It might be churlish to quibble with Kessler, but that deserves more than a parenthetical consideration. Any spike in hospitalization would be concerning, but it’s not clear that we are seeing a spike in pediatric hospitalizations. The point about correlation is critical not just to this data but to the argument for extraordinary mandates in containing the spread. The question is whether COVID admissions are adding to overall admissions, or whether COVID is just being seen among more of those already being admitted.

This chart strongly suggests the latter among adults, who are far more susceptible to COVID than children are:

And here’s a look at the CDC’s pediatric data again, updated to today:

The seven-day average of daily admissions has gone up since Friday but is still at 824 pediatric admissions correlated to a positive COVID test per day for the entire country. As of Friday’s numbers, there were approximately 3500 children occupying hospital beds in total that had tested positive for COVID, and that total has likely increased a bit since then too, but not to 100,000. (The numbers are different because hospital admissions generally last significantly longer than one day, probably especially for children.)

But there is no data at all to suggest that the disease is driving those admissions, and it’s far more likely that children who would otherwise be admitted to the hospital for other reasons have been exposed to Omicron in the big wave crashing across the US. No one has shown any data on overall pediatric admissions on a historical basis to demonstrate whether we are experiencing an extraordinary increase, or whether we are seeing expected levels based on past history. The latter would indicate that children aren’t being impacted by COVID and that this is just a correlative relationship. The fact that we aren’t getting this data tells me that there’s no reason to think this poses a significant issue, either for hospitals or for children in general.

Anyway, Kessler’s definitive slam is noteworthy, as is PolitiFact’s rebuke:

While the number of coronavirus-positive pediatric hospitalizations has risen with the spread of the omicron variant, Sotomayor’s number was way off.

At the time she made this comment, federal data showed that fewer than 5,000 coronavirus-positive children were in the hospital. In fact, fewer than 83,000 children have been hospitalized for COVID-19 — cumulatively — since August 2020.

There are over 100,000 cases among children, but scientists say that few of those are severe.

We rate the statement False.

As was Jake Tapper’s fact check:

Tapper notes the correlation issue, too, which brings up a key point. We are now two years into this pandemic since its breakout from China. Why hasn’t the CDC tightened up this area of reporting so that we don’t have to guess at correlation and causation?