Annual Back-to-School Covid Panic!
Fear-mongering about Covid and kids intensifies yet again as school starts back
My daughter has already headed back to school for the fourth year since schools closed in Spring 2020. This is her third year where masks, distancing, and other measures weren’t required. Yet some coronaphobic doctors and media personalities are trying to stir up panic about kids and Covid again, as back-to-school season is upon us. Here’s a look at some of the claims…
“We’re heading into another surge!”
These warnings are often accompanied by graphs showing only the most recent few months, but looking at the past year or two gives a better perspective about the size of this so-called “surge.” Yes, there’s a small summer wave underway. There’s been one every summer, particularly in the Southern US. Most waves increase for about 6-8 weeks before peaking, and this one started in June, so there’s a good chance we are nearing or at the peak.
Regionally, the Southern US is already showing signs of peaking according to wastewater data from biobot.io, and SARS-CoV-2 test positivity data from BioFire appears to be cresting nationally as well.
“Over two thousand children have died from Covid!”
This is simply false. The claim is based on numbers from the CDC’s flawed Data Tracker Demographics page. The official CDC mortality data currently shows 1,673 children aged 0-17 who died with Covid listed anywhere on their death certificate (from CDC NCHS) , and 1,124 with Covid where Covid is listed as the underlying cause (from CDC WONDER). I broke these numbers out by year, so that you can see that deaths have dropped significantly in 2023 (beginning in March 2022, but the effects of the Omicron wave in Jan/Feb 2022 skews the 2022 annual numbers).
I’ve written about the flawed data tracker before, and David Zweig wrote an excellent piece about it more recently. It continues to be a problem because it’s used by journalists and other Covid maximizers to scare parents.
And even these lower official numbers from the CDC are still likely inflated due to how much we test for Covid, the generous way CDC has chosen to code Covid deaths, the FEMA payouts for Covid funerals, etc.
“Covid is a leading cause of death in children!”
This claim is all about semantics. Covid is in the top 10 leading causes of death for children, but this ranking is very misleading. For 2022, the top 5 causes of death for ages 0-17, according to the ranking used in CDC WONDER are:
Certain conditions originating in the perinatal period (P00-P96): 10,150
Accidents (unintentional injuries) (V01-X59,Y85-Y86): 6,243
Congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities (Q00-Q99): 4,967
Assault (homicide) (*U01-*U02,X85-Y09,Y87.1): 2,361
Intentional self-harm (suicide) (*U03,X60-X84,Y87.0): 1,585
Covid comes in ranked at number 8 in 2022, with 468 deaths (about 1% of deaths overall in ages 0-17). And almost 40% of those deaths were from the first Omicron wave in Jan/Feb 2022 — subsequent waves have been significantly smaller.
“Covid is the top infectious cause of death in children!”
This is from a paper that looked at Covid deaths from August 2021-July 2022, capturing the worst two waves for children and young people (Delta and Omicron). The authors compared Covid deaths during that time with the CDC’s rankable causes of death from infectious or respiratory diseases from 2019. Based on that, Covid is ranked first. But (a) we test for Covid much, much more than we tested for other diseases in 2019, and (b) this is a selection of the worst period for Covid deaths in young people.
In the one year period after the initial Omicron wave, Covid is no longer ranked as the leading cause of death from infectious/respiratory disease in young people. Using the same age group (0-19) and methodology used in the paper, Covid from March 2022-February 2023 would be ranked 4th, with 368 deaths.
“MIS-C is a serious threat to children!”
Anyone bringing up MIS-C as a serious threat in 2023 is just being dishonest. With every wave, the risk of MIS-C has been reduced, and since the initial Omicron wave, MIS-C has all but disappeared in the US and elsewhere in the world, where it’s often referred to as PIMS-TS (see data from the UK and Germany).
“Kids also get Long Covid!”
A systematic analysis of studies on Long Covid in children was recently published by AAP, and a CIDRAP article highlighted one of the findings to claim that 1 in 6 children experience Long Covid. However, the 1 in 6 claim from this study is very misleading and suffers from many of the same issues as other dubious Long Covid studies. The paper is based on a very skewed subgroup of children who were mostly hospitalized during initial infection. Also, most of the studies included were from the first year of the pandemic, before the Omicron variant and widespread population immunity.
Better studies looking at the incidence Long Covid in children in the wider population have found rates closer to 1% having any symptoms that last weeks or months after the initial infection. See these pediatric Long Covid studies from Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, and the UK.
“Covid causes diabetes in kids!”
This claim is based on a flawed and highly-criticized CDC MMWR that uses electronic health records to determine that children were more likely to be newly diagnosed with diabetes in the months after infection. But it doesn’t even differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity, which is also a strong risk factor for severe Covid, so this data likely includes obese children who had undiagnosed type 2 diabetes prior to getting sick with Covid. There are also several other issues with the study as discussed in this brief Substack by Dr. Vinay Prasad. Additionally, a recent paper showed that “despite the plausibility of a biologic connection, systematic testing…did not show that Covid-19 precipitated type 1 diabetes.”
“Children should wear a mask to avoid Covid!”
It’s hard to believe anyone is still calling for masks in 2023, much less children. Here are some reasons why children should not be masking in school.
There’s a reason most people don’t wear masks anymore. Wearing a mask is hot, it’s uncomfortable, it makes verbal communication harder, it interferes with emotional expression and mental health…
In younger grades and foreign language classes, it’s important for teachers and students to see each other’s mouths move so that they can properly learn the phonetic sounds.
Cloth and surgical masks have not been shown to be effective, and high-quality respirators are not designed or tested to fit children. There are no N-95s certified for children.
Children don’t wear masks snugly and securely throughout the day, and masks must be taken off at school to eat, drink, nap, etc., further reducing any potential minimal benefit.
Almost all children already have natural immunity to Covid at this point. According to CDC seroprevalence data, as of December 2022, 92% of children had immunity from infection, and 96% of children had immunity from either infection or vaccination. And more children have gained natural immunity since then. There are few children left who don’t have some exposure to Covid already, which further reduces their already extremely low risk of severe outcomes.
Almost the only people being hospitalized with Covid at this point are those 70 and older, as shown in the graph below, and they often present with a variety of pre-existing ailments. Since Omicron, Covid pneumonia, along with MIS-C is all but gone, and even hospitalized cases are much different than they were early in the pandemic.
Schools were closed in a panic in 2020, because decision-makers erroneously feared that Covid would make children very sick or that schools would cause significant spread in the community. Those assumptions proved incorrect. Many schools made the mistake of remaining closed for much of the 2020-2021 school year, and then operating with excessive mitigations the following year. Most schools were finally back to normal for the 2022-2023 school year, with no significant Covid illness. Anyone now seeking to interfere with a fifth(!) year of school for children needs to deal with their own anxieties, and let children and schools operate as normal without trying to scare parents, teachers, and administrators with their unfounded fears.
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