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Fact-checking Sotomayor on kids with severe COVID-19
If Your Time is short
• The number of coronavirus-positive pediatric hospitalizations has risen with the spread of the omicron variant. However, 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.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor incorrectly cited statistics about serious cases of COVID-19 among children during oral arguments over the Biden administration’s efforts to mandate vaccines for certain Americans.
"We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition, and many on ventilators" due to the coronavirus, Sotomayor said Jan. 7, 2022.
Her claim is not supported by data.
In all, 82,842 COVID-positive children 17 and younger have been admitted to the hospital since Aug. 1, 2020, according to CDC data.
The most recent data available as of Sotomayor’s remark showed 3,342 children were currently hospitalized for confirmed COVID-19, according to federal data. That number rises to 4,652 children if suspected coronavirus cases are included.
Both figures represent less than 5% of the number Sotomayor cited. (The Supreme Court press office did not respond to inquiries from PolitiFact.)
Sotomayor spoke of serious cases, which might not necessarily mean that the children went to the hospital. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that as of the end of December, "child COVID-19 cases are above 100,000." But it also noted that "it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children."
Serious pediatric coronavirus cases have risen lately — just not as fast or as far as Sotomayor said.
The number of pediatric COVID-positive admissions has spiked as the fast-spreading omicron variant has become dominant since mid December. CDC data shows that the frequency of new hospital admissions for patients younger than 17 years old has blown past its previous peak.
Still, the pediatric hospitalization rate has remained much lower than that of other age groups.
The 1.09 per 100,000 hospitalization rate for children under 18 compares with 2.76 for those between 20 and 29; 3.57 for those between 30 and 39; 3.79 for those between 40 and 49; 5.62 for those between 50 and 59; 8.16 between 60 and 69; and 15.82 for those above age 70.
There is evidence that the youngest children — those from birth to 4 years old, who are not yet approved to take coronavirus vaccines — are seeing two to three times higher rates of coronavirus-positive hospitalization than at any point in the pandemic.
"It’s critically important that we surround them with people who are vaccinated to provide them protection," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
This elevated rate for children up to age four has reached 4 per 100,000, still well below the rates for middle-aged and elderly patients.
Meanwhile, some of the hospitalized children (and patients of other ages) were not admitted to the hospital specifically for coronavirus symptoms, but rather tested positive once admitted for other reasons.
Seattle Children’s Hospital critical care chief Dr. John McGuire told the Associated Press that "most of the COVID-positive kids in the hospital are actually not here for COVID-19 disease. They are here for other issues but happen to have tested positive."
Sotomayor said, "We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition, and many on ventilators" due to the coronavirus.
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.
U.S. Supreme Court, oral arguments on workplace vaccine rules, Jan. 7, 2022
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID data tracker, accessed Jan. 7, 2022
HealthData.gov, accessed Jan. 7, 2022
American Association of Pediatrics, Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report, Dec. 30, 2021
Associated Press, "Hospitalizations skyrocket in kids too young for COVID shots," Jan. 7, 2022
New York Times, "New York Times, "A Surge in Hospitalized Young Children Infected With the Coronavirus," Jan. 7, 2022
National Review, "Justice Sotomayor Falsely Claims 100,000 Children in ‘Serious Condition’ from Covid," Jan. 7, 2022
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