NBC News announces surge in child COVID hospitalizations, but...

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

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. (Emphasis added)

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.

Yes, you read that correctly. Following the guidance of the CDC, hospitals are now testing virtually everyone who is admitted for any reason for COVID, including children. And they are reporting the total number of people who test positive. What that means, as is finally made clear at the end of the article, is that the numbers being reported reflect the total number of children who tested positive when being admitted to the hospital no matter what they were admitted for.

That “doubling” of the number of children admitted to hospitals wasn’t the number of kids who were hospitalized for COVID, It’s the number that were hospitalized with COVID, no matter the reason for the hospitalization. If your kid has a sniffly nose but then breaks her leg while snow sledding in the back yard and you take her to the hospital, when she tests positive for COVID upon admission, she gets added to that total figure being cited by NBC News.

In short, it does not appear that there is a sudden explosion of children being struck down by the Omicron variant and needing to be hospitalized because of it. In fact, it appears to be quite the opposite.