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Fact Check: Sonia Sotomayor Claimed 100,000 Children Are In ‘Serious Condition’ With COVID
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Fact Check: Sonia Sotomayor Claimed 100,000 Children Are In ‘Serious Condition’ With COVID

The Supreme Court justice is incorrect.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Friday in challenges to President Joe Biden’s mandate that would require COVID-19 testing and vaccine requirements for large businesses. At one point during the hearing, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who participated remotely, commented on how the most recent COVID-19 variant is affecting  children, saying: “We have over 100,000 children, which we have never had before, in serious condition, and many on ventilators.”

This is a false statement. 

While Rochelle Walensky, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, did note at a press briefing on Friday that with the omicron variant, children are being hospitalized “at the highest rate compared to any other point in the pandemic,” there’s still no evidence to support Sotomayor’s claim. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 82,843 children ages 0-17 admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 since August 1, 2020. It’s important to point out two things, though. This figure does not make a distinction between children admitted to the hospital because of COVID-19 and children admitted to the hospital who also tested positive for COVID-19. Secondly, this number accounts for hospitalizations over the course of almost a year and half. 

The seven-day average for hospitalizations (from December 22 to January 4) for patients ages 0-17 with confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19 was 766, while the previous seven-day average was 383. 

And even those numbers could be misleading.

In an interview with The Dispatch Fact Check, Chris Beyer, infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that Sotomayor’s figure “is not accurate for current hospitalizations in children, but it certainly could reflect current cases in children.”

Beyer added that: “We’ve had in total just under 1,000 children die of COVID-19 in the U.S., and many of those who had pulmonary disease would have been on ventilators before succumbing. She is correct that we have more children in the hospital now than ever before. Some of those were also of course, children hospitalized for other conditions and found to have COVID-19 infections, these are known as incidental cases. We don’t know the balance of how many these are, but they do add to the total.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently explained the distinction between children hospitalized with COVID versus for COVID on MSNBC. MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin asked Fauci about a “sudden increase in children at hospitals with COVID.” In response, Fauci responded: “Quantitatively, you’re having so many more people, including children, who are getting infected, and even though hospitalization among children is much much lower on a percentage basis than hospitalizations for adults,” he said. “However when you have such a large volume of infections among children, even with a low level of rate of infection, you are still going to see a lot more children who get hospitalized.” 

Fauci added: “If you look at the children who are hospitalized, many of them are hospitalized with COVID, as opposed to because of COVID. What we mean by that, if a child goes to the hospital, they automatically get tested for COVID, and they get counted as a COVID hospitalized individual. When in fact, they may go in for a broken leg, or appendicitis, or something like that. So it is overcounting the number of children who are hospitalized with COVID as opposed to because of COVID.”

Khaya Himmelman is a fact checker for The Dispatch. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Barnard College.