Walensky, Fauci acknowledge COVID-19 hospitalization differences

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

RALEIGH — Recent public comments from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director Dr. Anthony Fauci appear to confirm that hospitalizations with, not for, COVID-19 are indeed happening nationwide. 

Since April 2020, North State Journal has followed hospitalization reports in North Carolina, making numerous public records requests for hospitalization demographics before the data was made publicly available in June of 2020. 

In an appearance on Fox News Sunday on Jan. 9, Walensky confirmed that there were fewer than 3,500 pediatric hospitalizations nationwide from COVID-19 and the CDC estimates that up to 40% of the patients in hospitals only find out they have COVID-19 after being tested.  

“While pediatric hospitalizations are rising, there are still about 15-fold less than hospitalizations of our older-age demographics,” Walensky said. 

When pressed further by Baier, Walensky also said that the CDC did not have a split on numbers of all patients in hospitals for COVID-19 or with COVID-19, despite having run the agency for close to a year. She did say that those numbers would be forthcoming but did not give a timetable on when they would be released. 

The appearance came after a Friday report from the CDC, which said that while the hospitalization rate of children is near the highest point since the pandemic began, the overall hospitalization rate among children and teens is still lower than that of any other age group. And they account for less than 5% of average new daily hospital admissions. 

At a briefing, Walensky said the numbers include children hospitalized because of COVID-19 and those admitted for other reasons but found to be infected, The Associated Press reported. 

The CDC also said during the briefing that the surge could be partially attributable to how COVID-19 hospitalizations in this age group are defined: a positive virus test within 14 days of hospitalization for any reason. 

The severity of illness among children during the omicron wave seems lower than it was with the delta variant, said Seattle Children’s Hospital critical care chief Dr. John McGuire. 

“Most of the COVID+ kids in the hospital are actually not here for COVID-19 disease,” McGuire said in an email. “They are here for other issues but happen to have tested positive.” 

Additionally, Newsweek reported on Dec. 31, 2021, that Dr. Anthony Fauci downplayed the rise of children in the hospital as the omicron variant spread. 

During one of his frequent appearances on MSNBC, he said that some of the children currently being treated at medical facilities were hospitalized with COVID as opposed to “because of COVID.” 

He added that some children who are currently listed as being in the hospital with COVID may actually be receiving treatment for “a broken leg or appendicitis,” rather than for severe reactions to the virus. 

Fauci also added during the same media briefing with Walensky that many children hospitalized with COVID-19 have other health conditions that make them more susceptible to complications from the virus including obesity, diabetes and lung disease. 

Despite the data showing even at the current height in an age group not currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, the overall rates remain much lower than any other age group. 

In North Carolina, data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services dashboard shows that currently, just 2.3% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are for pediatric patients. Statewide, 3,850 total patients were hospitalized with COVID-19. NCDHHS has not disclosed the percentages there due to COVID-19 itself and those who test positive when hospitalized for an unrelated condition or illness.