The Deputy Governor of North Carolina is among the biggest critics of Governor Roy Cooper’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, a Republican running against Cooper, says children should be allowed to go to school. Currently, students from kindergarten through 12th grade can attend in-person classes only in some counties and only with limited capacity.
In an interview published on Sept. 2, Forest said Cooper’s restrictions on in-person learning are unnecessary.
“There is no evidence anywhere in the world that our children shouldn’t be in school. There is no evidence of this anywhere. All the evidence points to the fact that our children are 1
Is it true that children are “17 times more likely to experience adverse effects from seasonal flu than they are from coronavirus?”
Forest repeated similar claims at other events.
What Forest said
We asked the Forest campaign where he was getting his information. Forest spokesman Andrew Dunn pointed to a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Citing analysis from The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, a think tank, the Journal wrote:
“The comparisons of the death rate between Covid-19 and the flu are not adequate because they affect populations differently. Children under 14 are between 6.8 and 17 times less likely to die from Covid-19 than seasonal flu or pneumonia, assuming 150,000 coronavirus deaths this year. “
While the Wall Street Journal’s description of the study is accurate, Forest does not represent it correctly.
First, Forest ignores the newspaper’s disclaimer that comparisons between COVID-19 and influenza are “inadequate because they affect populations differently.” So, he misrepresented the math.
The WSJ reported a mathematical range: “between 6.8 and 17 times”. Forest chose the top of that range and stated it as if it were an accepted fact.
Then, Forest misquoted the study. The Journal mentioned the deaths and Forest repeatedly said “negative effects”. In this way, Forest minimizes the risk to children.
Coronavirus and children
The flu appears to be a more serious threat to children than the new coronavirus, as reported by PolitiFact in August and September. But the CDC didn’t say how much higher the risk of the flu is.
And the CDC website distinguishes between healthy children and those with pre-existing conditions.
For healthy children, the risk of complications “is higher for the flu than for COVID-19,” the CDC said. Meanwhile, children with underlying medical conditions “are at increased risk of both the flu and COVID-19.”
The term “negative effects” is vague and soft. Let’s see how many children have been hospitalized for the two diseases. (PolitiFact Wisconsin reported these figures in its September 8 fact-check by United States Senator Ron Johnson.)
During the 2018-19 flu season, the hospitalization rate among children aged 5 to 17 was 39.2 children per 100,000 children.
For COVID-19 patients in that age group, the CDC says the hospitalization rate is 6 per 100,000 children. (For those interested in math: 39 is 6.5 times higher than 6.)
Although children appear to be more affected by the flu than by COVID-19, we struggled to find statistics that matched Forest’s quote.
What the experts said
We asked the experts: Is there a consensus in the medical community that children are “17 times more likely to have adverse effects from seasonal flu than coronavirus?”
“I’m not familiar with such a statistic,” said Bill Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Not even Alan Schroeder, an intensive care physician at Stanford Children’s Health. Schroeder said he hesitates to put a number on the likelihood of children suffering from the flu more than COVID-19.
“The idea that children don’t really get sick is broadly true. But the disparities between the flu and COVID-19 have narrowed significantly,” he said.
Schroeder noted that, in general, between 100 and 200 children die each year from influenza in the United States (and those deaths have occurred at times when the nation does not restrict travel or practice social distancing).
Meanwhile, with the new coronavirus in the United States less than a year old, the number of pediatric deaths is still on the rise.
As of September 10, the CDC has estimated that 62 children, from infants up to age 14, have died from COVID-19. In the 15-24 age group of the CDC, the coronavirus killed another 315 people. Researchers believe school cancellations this spring prevented up to even more deaths.
The American Academy of Pediatrics estimated that COVID-19 had killed 90 people under the age of 20 in mid-August.
“They are really oversimplifying the problems at hand,” Schroeder said of the Forest quote. In the context of school reopening, Schroeder said there is much more to consider – children with underlying conditions, child-to-adult transmissions – than the likelihood of a healthy child dying than the flu.
“And for that reason I don’t find it a useful comparison,” he said.
Forest said: “All the evidence indicates that our children are 17 times more likely to experience adverse effects from seasonal flu than coronavirus.”
He misrepresented a line in the Wall Street Journal, which said that “children under 14 are 6.8 to 17 times less likely to die from Covid-19 than seasonal flu or pneumonia.”
He chooses the highest number and incorrectly uses “negative effects” rather than deaths.
Are children “17 times” more likely to suffer from the flu than COVID-19? It is possible, but not conclusive at this point.
Is death a “negative effect” of the coronavirus? Obviously. But Forest’s phrasing doesn’t accurately represent the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed.
Forest’s statement contains an element of truth. But it is not supported by “all” evidence, as it claims, and it minimizes the risks of COVID-19 by focusing only on death. We mostly consider it fake.