A September 18 New York Times article criticized a Trump administration official for “wrongly” claiming that the “risk of death” from COVID-19 “in children 0-19 years of age is basically 0”.
To support its claim that the risk does not approximate zero, the article cites an August 31 New York Times article, but that prior report does not support the claim that the risk in children of dying from COVID is higher.
The earlier article had reported that “data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] from the summer show that cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus have increased at a faster rate in children and teenagers than among the general public.”
No estimate of the risk to children of dying from COVID-19 is presented by the Times in either article.
Whereas the Times reports the higher increase in cases among young children and adolescents relative to adults as cause for alarm, a more reasonable interpretation is that this will fortunately mean a declining case fatality rate since young people are far less likely to die from COVID-19 than elderly people. Indeed, a recent analysis of data from Germany shows that the case fatality rate declines as younger people become an increasingly large proportion of total cases.
As the AAP observes, “the available data indicated that COVID-19-associated hospitalization and death is uncommon in children.”
The presented data show a rate of 780 COVID-19 cases in children per 100,000 children in the population, and “In states reporting, 0%-0.15% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death”.
There were 41 states reporting data on the percentage of child cases resulting in death, plus New York City, which is where the 0.15% child death rate came from and which represented a total of 12 child deaths. The state with the next highest death rate, 0.06%, was New Jersey, with 4 child deaths. Connecticut had a rate of 0.05% with 2 deaths. All of the other states had a lower rate of child deaths, with 20 of the states reporting a childhood death rate of 0.00%.
The average child case fatality rate shown by the data for the reporting states plus New York City is 0.01%.
If rounded to the tenths place, the data show that 39 of the 41 states reporting that data had a child death rate for which “basically zero” is a perfectly accurate description: 0.0%.
If approximately 0.01% of reported child cases have resulted in death and there have been 780 cases per 100,000 children in the population, then the child population mortality rate is about 1 death for every 1,282,051 children, or a risk of death of about 0.000078%.
Surely it is reasonable to suggest that that number is “basically zero”.
Furthermore, it’s important to keep in mind that the percentages reported by the AAP represent case fatality rates, which include only reported cases in the denominator. The true infection fatality rate (IFR) is even lower since not all cases are reported. Individuals who are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms are less likely to be included among the case counts, and children are more likely to be asymptomatic than adults, so the infection fatality rate could be significantly lower than 0.01%.
A study published on September 2 in Annals of Internal Medicine set out to estimate infection fatality rates in Indiana excluding nursing home residents and found that the “overall noninstitutionalized IFR was 0.26%.” For individuals under 40 years of age, the IFR was 0.01%. Since that includes adults as well as children, the IFR among children is likely to be significantly lower.
A study published on July 20 in Science estimated the burden of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in France, and found that the overall IFR was 0.5%, with an IFR for individuals under 20 years of age of “0.001%”.
The current “best estimate” presented by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the infection fatality rate for individuals aged zero to nineteen years of age is 0.003%.
Clearly, to say that the risk to children of dying from COVID-19 is “basically zero” is not at all “wrong”, as the New York Times falsely claims. Indeed, the newspaper’s own primary source cited to support its assertion instead contradicts the Times by showing that the case fatality rate among children in the US is about 0.01%, which means that the true infection fatality rate is even lower.
So why does the New York Times try to deceive the public this way? It’s just another illustration of how America’s “newspaper of record” is more interested in furthering certain political agendas than in doing honest journalism. In this case, the Times is pushing two agendas. One is to denigrate the Trump administration without limiting itself to legitimate criticisms. The other is to advocate the “lockdown” measures that have been put in place in response to SARS-CoV-2 by helping to create the necessary sense of fear and mass panic among the population necessary for consent for those measures to be manufactured.
[This article was updated on September 26, 2020, to include the CDC’s “best estimate” of the infection fatality rate for individuals aged nineteen years and younger.]