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What the Toronto Sun got wrong about kids & COVID-19

Last month, Anthony Furey of the Toronto Sun published a story with a headline that read, “Fewer Canadian kids hospitalized with COVID than previously thought”.

Last month, Anthony Furey of the Toronto Sun published a story with a headline that read, “Fewer Canadian kids hospitalized with COVID than previously thought, report shows”.

In his opening paragraph, Furey reported:

The real number of Canadian kids admitted to hospital because of COVID-19 is much lower than the data previously indicated, according to a new report from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

He supplements this with his next statement:

It’s yet another piece of contextual information that should hopefully tamp down concerns and also serve to help the cause of those medical experts and parents eager to get life back to normal for Canadian kids.

That word contextual is key, because I think Furey is misreading the report, and thus providing the wrong context.

Take these next 3 paragraphs from his article:

“Only 36.6% of pediatric patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were admitted due to an acute respiratory infection,” explains a new report out from PHAC’s Canadian Nosocomial Infection Surveillance Program (CNISP).

This means that out of the number of children previously tallied to have been in hospital with COVID-19, only a third of them were actually in hospital because they were in fact suffering from COVID-19, pneumonia or something similar.

The rest of them were admitted to hospital for some other treatment or procedure and were only confirmed to be positive for the virus due to routine screening of all patients.

Furey doubled down on this rhetoric in a tweet he sent out about the article:

Except he’s misinterpreting that statement from PHAC.

Again, here’s the actual statement:

Only 36.6% of pediatric patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were admitted due to an acute respiratory infection.

Furey is suggesting that only that 36.6% were “suffering” from the virus, that if you don’t have an acute respiratory infection, that you’re not actually suffering from the virus.

What Furey fails to mention is that nowhere in the report (which you can read in its entirety here) does it say how long those children had been infected with COVID-19. For example, if they contracted the virus just two days before, would it even have been long enough to develop an acute respiratory infection.

Also, how does this data compare to adults? Are adults who tested positive for COVID-19 in hospital being admitted for acute respiratory infections at similar rates? Higher rates? Lower?

As well, this was a pretty small sample size: fewer than 300. And this sample was gathered from, at most, 16 hospitals, so basically only 19 patients per hospital, on average. Plus, the data completion rate was only 42%, which means more than half of the paediatric patients admitted for COVID-19 aren’t even included in the data Furey is citing. Finally, nearly half of the CNISP hospitals (14) never submitted any questionnaires at all

It’s important that we don’t try extrapolating this data by using it to suggest that children are affected very little by the virus. While it may be true that children aren’t seriously affected by COVID-19, this specific data doesn’t prove that claim, not without knowing how infected the children are or how admission metrics compare to those of adults, let alone with such a small sample size.

Even if we assume Furey’s assertion is correct—that COVID-19 doesn’t adversely affect healthy children—they can still pass the virus onto people who are adversely affected by it.

By Kim Siever

I live in Lethbridge with my spouse and 4 of our 6 children. I’m a writer, focusing on political news, social issues, and the occasional poem. My politics are radically left.

I’m also dichotomally Mormon. And I’m a functional vegetarian: I have a blog post about that somewhere around here. My pronouns are he/him, and I’m queer.

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