Credit: Joana Lopes / Scopio

FACT CHECK: No, Children’s hospitalisations with covid are not “soaring”

For the past two years, Irish people have been treated to a torrent of public concern, much of it coming from mainstream outlets like the Irish Examiner, about the “dangers of misinformation”. On Monday of this week, though, the Irish people were presented with a genuinely egregious piece of misinformation by the Examiner itself. Here is their headline:

“Soaring hospitalisations of children with covid 19”

The implication of those words is obvious. First of all, they are in the present tense. An eagle might have soared, once. Or it might soar again, conditionally, in the future. But if you describe one as “soaring”, you are talking about what it is doing right now, today.

Here is the latest graph of cases by age by the HSPC:

And here is a bigger sized version of the graph. Children are broken down into three groups, coloured various shades of pink or purple. The key to the graph is at the top.

You will observe the pattern: Cases in all groups peaked no later than the second week in January. Older people peaked a little earlier, younger people a little later. But since the second week of January, cases have been falling across all age groups. These are official Government figures, not some hypothesis.

That’s cases. What about hospitalisations? Here are the figures for the two most recent weeks, weeks 6 and 7 of the year.

Again, you note that amongst children under 13, the figure was 56 admissions in week 6, falling to 37 in week 7. So the rate of hospitalisation for children is actually falling currently, far from “soaring”, as the examiner claims.

What’s more, these figures encompass all children who are admitted to hospital and subsequently test positive for covid. It would be deeply wrong to suggest that all, let alone even a majority, of these children, are in hospital because of covid.

So how, then, did the Examiner justify the headline above about soaring cases amongst children? And publish that just two days ago?

This is how they did it: They talked about the past, and pretended they were talking about the present. Read this extract:

It is interesting that the restrictions we had grown so accustomed to were dropped so suddenly, because for about six weeks after Christmas, the HSE was unable to tell me how many children had been hospitalised with Omicron due to the “prioritisation of resources during this surge period”.

That changed quietly last week, though you may not have heard about it — the missing data for children under the age of 14 is now available. It isn’t pretty.

Between December 22 and February 17, there were 596 hospitalisations of children aged 0-14 with Covid-19.

For context, that represents 42% of all hospitalisations to date, since the beginning of the pandemic, across that age group.

There were 106 hospitalisations in children aged 0-14 in the seven days up to January 29, the highest number recorded in one week since the pandemic began.

This is just remarkably misleading sophistry. For one thing, it uses figures that are now three weeks old, and presents them as something that is happening today.

For another, it treats every covid admission by a child as a case of covid which led to an admission, rather than an admission which led to the recording of a case of covid. This is a distinction of vital importance.

It is also important to note that vanishingly few children with covid get seriously ill, and the chances of death at that age are infinitely small.

This was a remarkably shoddy piece of “journalism” by the Irish Examiner, which will have frightened parents on the basis of weeks old data, interpreted in the most alarming light, to justify a headline that simply is not true.

If we ever did that kind of thing here at Gript, we’d be shot. And you know what, we’d deserve it. These people do not deserve a second hearing when they preach about “fake news”. Because if we’re going to have a serious conversation on that subject, this story should be exhibit A.

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