A growing number of local health departments are forcing children to wear masks in schools. Health officials, such as those in Kent, Ottawa and Oakland counties, as well as in northwest Michigan, justify this action by raising the specter of an increasing number of children being hospitalized with COVID-19. While some children have been hospitalized with this disease, a broader look shows that COVID-19 accounts for just a small fraction of all pediatric hospitalizations in Michigan.
According to state data, 977 children age 19 and under were hospitalized with a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19 between March 1, 2020, and Aug. 24, 2021. While this age group comprises nearly a quarter of the state’s population, it accounts for only 2% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations over this period.
Far more children are hospitalized for diseases and ailments other than COVID-19. State data shows that in the typical year from 2014 to 2018, about 45,000 children under 18, not including newborns, needed care from a hospital. That means that the total number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 over the last 18 months amounts to just 2% of all the children typically hospitalized in an average year.
The table below shows the average number of children under 18 hospitalized annually between 2014-2018 by cause.
Urinary tract infection
Based on this data, we can say that for every child hospitalized with COVID-19, there are at least 46 children hospitalized for different issues. And yet none of those cases receive the amount of focus that COVID-19 does. None trigger extraordinary interventions, such as school mask mandates and quarantines. Given their response to COVID-19, public health officials might explain why similar government mandates are not needed to protect children from more common health threats. Assessing the issue from a broader perspective suggests that reducing COVID-19 harms should play only a small role in the effort to improve the overall health of Michigan children — what should be our public health institutions' chief priority.
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