Fox's dangerous efforts to downplay COVID's impact on kids mirror Trump's push to reopen schools

As the country continues to debate whether schools should reopen for in-person classes, Fox News has been arguing for weeks that the risk to children from the coronavirus is minimal and attacking teachers unions that are concerned about returning safely. President Donald Trump has done the same, recently doubling down on his calls for reopening schools and downplaying the dangers to children, including in an appearance on the network. But evidence continues to confirm that the coronavirus does in fact pose a risk to children (and their families and school staff), as reports come out of outbreaks at summer camps and at schools that have already reopened and now face sometimes disastrous results.

Evidence shows COVID-19 poses a risk to children

A report recently found that there has been a 90% increase in COVID-19 cases in children in the last four weeks, and 86 children have died of the virus since May. The Los Angeles Times reported that coronavirus cases in children are surging in California, up 150% last month; in Florida, COVID-19 cases in children were up 137%.

While studies have shown that symptoms are generally milder in children and babies than in adults, the disease can cause complications in children with underlying health conditions, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that children are still “at risk for severe COVID-19.” Research has also concluded that Black and Hispanic children face more severe impacts from coronavirus, likely because of longstanding racial disparities in health care and access. And in June, scientists identified children as a possible vector for mass transmission. 

There have been multiple super-spreader events involving gatherings of children throughout the summer, many tied to summer camps. At least 82 cases were linked to a Missouri sleepaway camp in early July. Not long after, COVID-19 outbreaks shut down camps in South Dakota and Texas. At least 260 campers and staffers -- almost half of those in attendance -- were infected at a summer camp in Georgia

There have also been reports internationally of outbreaks at daycares and schools. In Australia, a coronavirus outbreak was linked to a child care center. And in Israel, schools reopened after the country nearly contained the virus, and the results have been disastrous, causing Israel’s COVID-19 cases to spike and essentially erasing months of progress.

In some parts of the United States, schools have already started their year, and there have been reports of children contracting and spreading the virus. A second-grader recently tested positive for the virus in Georgia after schools reopened, and other schools have had to close or are considering closing almost immediately after opening due to positive test results

Fox has been pushing schools to reopen

Over the last several weeks, Fox News has been pushing schools to reopen in person nearly unconditionally and attacking teachers unions over their safety concerns. Many on the network have omitted crucial information about children and the risks of COVID-19 when making their case to reopen schools, such as referencing other countries where schools have opened without mentioning that they have lower infection rates than the United States.

Trump has also cited misinformation on Fox News to argue to reopen schools. On the August 5 edition of Fox & Friends, Trump falsely claimed that children are “almost immune” from the coronavirus while pushing for schools to reopen. The video of the interview was removed from Facebook and Twitter because it violated the platforms’ rules against COVID-19 misinformation, but the Fox & Friends co-hosts doubled down the next day and defended Trump's false claims. The remark about children was the second time he pushed the lie on Fox that week -- the day before, during an interview with Lou Dobbs on Fox Business, Trump said “young people” are “virtually immune from this disease. They're incredible.”

Fox’s coverage has left the perception that the risk to children is near-absent and schools must reopen, despite months of reports revealing the opposite. Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt confirmed this alternative reality recently when she declared “shock” at the news that 97,000 children had tested positive because she’s “heard kids really don’t get it.” 

Here are some examples of Fox News personalities arguing that schools should reopen because children pose minimal risks:

  • On the July 1 edition of Fox & Friends, New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz insisted that sending children to school carried “minuscule risks,” saying that “there’s other important things in the world other than coronavirus.” 
  • On July 7, Fox medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel said the country must reopen schools because “the risk to teachers is so much lower than it is to doctors.” 
  • In an opening monologue on July 7, Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed that “sending children to school will not spread coronavirus.” He also argued that concerns over reopening are a political plot by Democrats to harm Trump before the election, saying that “these are people who will destroy anything for more power, and unfortunately the season it means hurting our children.”
Video file

Citation From the July 7, 2020, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • On July 8, Fox host Brian Kilmeade claimed without evidence that “99.9% of kids will not be affected” by the coronavirus if schools reopen and said teachers and students must adopt a “military attitude.” 
  • On the July 11 edition of Fox & Friends Weekend, Fox contributor and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett claimed kids are “pretty much immune” to the coronavirus, “both as carriers and transmitters.” 
  • On July 14, Fox Business host Charles Payne attacked teachers unions for opposing reopening schools without sufficient safety measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, saying: “These unions have put themselves, their paychecks, and political power over children, particularly in large cities and progressive states, for decades. … This is really an attack on the most vulnerable, poorest parts of our nation.”
  • On July 23, while guest-anchoring America’s Newsroom, Bret Baier did not push back on White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s claim that “there is no reason for schools to stay closed” because “we know that kids in particular are not affected by COVID in the same way that adults are.”
Video file

Citation From the July 23, 2020, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom

  • On July 23, Carlson accused Democrats of keeping schools closed to increase suffering for political gain because “schoolchildren remain nearly immune to the fatal effects of the coronavirus.” 
  • On July 30, Fox host Laura Ingraham claimed that a study revealed that “exposure to children may make adults less likely to contract COVID-19." She failed to note that this claim was not a conclusion of the study but simply a hypothesis suggested by the data that needs further research, though she did acknowledge that it had not been peer-reviewed. Her guest Phil Kerpen agreed that there’s a possibility that “school closures endanger teachers” by “denying them access to children that tends to be protective.”
  • On August 9, Fox News host Mark Levin compared teachers unions to school segregationists Orval Faubus and George Wallace, saying they’re “standing in the school doorways, not allowing our little kids to go to school” over concerns about reopening safely.
Video file

Citation From the August 9, 2020, edition of Fox News' Fox and Friends Weekend