Axios Graphic Undoes Own Framing on Children COVID ‘Surge’

Tobias Hoonhout
·3 min read

Axios published a Wednesday story warning that “for children, the COVID surge isn’t over” — even as the same article highlighted data showing that pediatric COVID-related hospitalizations have fallen by 25 percent since early January.

The outlet notes that child coronavirus hospitalizations rose by 50 percent from October 1 to January 7, but its “surge” characterization jars strikingly with an Axios graphic showing U.S. COVID-related hospitalizations among adults and children over the last four months. The chart — unironically featured in the lede of the story — shows a steady rate of low child hospitalizations compared with adults through February 20.

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“This article appears to be fearmongering, contradicted by the graph within the article that shows very very low rates of kids requiring hospitalization for SARS CoV-2,” Vinay Prasad, an associate professor of medicine in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, told National Review in an email.

Despite the initial framing, much of the Axios piece does not even center around COVID-19 — it features anecdotes from several children’s hospitals noting that they have seen “large numbers of kids suffering from multisystem inflammatory syndrome, commonly known MIS-C.” Axios makes no mention of actual numbers in that regard.

MIS-C is a multisystem inflammatory syndrome that began appearing in children last spring, soon after the pandemic began. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that upwards of 99 percent of cases also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

“While there is mounting evidence that it is linked to COVID-19, the relationship between the two is not yet known,” an explainer from Yale medicine reads. “What is clear is that MIS-C is a serious health issue that requires prompt medical attention. Fortunately, it is also rare, and the vast majority of children affected by it survive.”

Though Axios reports that the MIS-C “surge began in January, and continues today,” data from the CDC calls such framing into question. A seven-day moving average of cases shows that, as of February 4, 2021, MIS-C cases peaked last May at approximately 16 cases, with numbers rising as high as 14 cases per day in early December. The CDC does note that data from the last six weeks are still incomplete and “the actual number of MIS-C cases during this period is likely larger,” but shows a sharp decrease in January and February.

“I am always extremely cautious interpreting relative terms. For example, how would [one] define a ‘common’, ‘uncommon’ or ‘rare’ disease? So, similarly I am cautious interpreting ‘surge,’” Dr. William V. Raszka, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at the University of Vermont, told National Review. “The number of MIS-C cases almost tripled between mid-October and mid-December. Is that a surge? It sounds a bit different if you write, the number of cases rose from approximately four/day to 12/day. Personally, I believe that publications should include relative and absolute risks.”

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