A new severe and sometimes fatal syndrome related to the novel coronavirus has affected over 100 children in more than a dozen states, including Kentucky, and has killed at least two children and a teenager. But most viewers of Kentucky-based television news stations did not see this important information when watching news segments about Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci for cautioning against reopening schools too quickly because of the unknown dangers that the coronavirus poses for children.
Dr. Fauci was one of several health experts that testified remotely on May 12 to a Senate committee about the Trump administration’s coronavirus response. During his testimony, he was asked about the risk-benefit ratio of sending children back to school in the fall, in response to which he warned of a “risk of having a return or a resurgence of an outbreak and the unintended deleterious consequences of having children at a school.”
Paul attacked Fauci and claimed it was “ridiculous” to have a national strategy of not sending children back to school in the fall given kids’ lower fatality rate, saying: “I don't think you're the end-all. I don't think you're the one person that gets to make a decision. We can listen to your advice, but there are people on the other side saying there's not going to be a surge and that we can safely open the economy and the facts will bear this out.”
Fauci responded: “We don’t know everything about this virus. And we really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children, because the more and more we learn, we’re seeing things about what this virus can do that we didn’t see from the studies in China or in Europe -- for example, right now children presenting with COVID-19 who actually have a very strange inflammatory syndrome, very similar to Kawasaki syndrome. I think we better be careful if we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.”
The syndrome Fauci referred to is pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, and it has been reported in at least 15 states, with New York alone having more than 100 cases. The condition is rare, but it is life-threatening and has caused the deaths of two young children and a teenager in New York so far. A peer-reviewed study by Italian doctors that was published May 13 in the medical journal The Lancet reportedly found a “strong association” between the coronavirus and the condition. And CNN reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is preparing to release a nationwide alert to doctors to be on the lookout for the syndrome.
Besides this new risk to children, some studies have also provided evidence that children may spread coronavirus, leading some epidemiologists to recommend that schools stay shut to prevent a resurgence of coronavirus infections, as The New York Times reported. Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University told the Times that “to open schools because of some uninvestigated notion that children aren’t really involved in this, that would be a very foolish thing.”
Policymakers must consider all the evidence when deciding whether to send children back to school. The Louisville Courier Journal dedicated a large portion of an article on Paul’s criticism of Fauci to informing its audience about the health risks to children:
Paul's comments came less than a day after Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced a 10-year-old Kentucky child was in critical condition due to COVID-19.
Beshear said Monday the child was on a ventilator after developing an inflammatory syndrome experts say is growing increasingly prevalent among children infected with the coronavirus.
The illness, referred to by some doctors as “pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome,” has been linked to the deaths of at least three New York children.
The syndrome affecting COVID-19-infected children has been likened to Kawasaki disease, a rare childhood illness that causes inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body. But the new syndrome has affected patients’ hearts differently, according to front-line doctors.
Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky's public health commissioner, said Monday that children may first present with respiratory problems, while others may have gastrointestinal problems. Their immune systems then go into overdrive trying to fend off the virus, Stack said.
While the Journal included that important information in its reporting on the Paul-Fauci exchange, most of Kentucky’s television stations that air local news broadcasts did not. An iQ media database search for mentions of Paul on TV stations in the Lexington and Louisville markets on May 12 and 13 found 30 segments from local news broadcasts covering Paul’s criticism of Fauci. Only four of those segments, or 13%, either included the crucial context about this new condition affecting children or included a mention immediately following the segment.
Lexington's WDKY, the only station licensed in the state that is owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, aired two segments covering Paul’s attack on Fauci over reopening schools. It didn’t mention the new syndrome in either. Sinclair's national news team has previously produced multiple news segments on coronavirus that have failed to include warnings from health experts -- and some of those segments also aired on WDKY.