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Doctor, Press fan flames of alarm

by SCOTT MacPHEE/Guest Opinion
| September 22, 2021 1:00 AM

During this health crisis, the public deserves accurate, relevant information. Unfortunately, last week’s article, “Brace for local kids being hospitalized, doctor warns,” gave counter-factual information that seems designed to provoke public panic.

Dr. Vanessa Carroll of Kootenai Health attributes to the American Academy of Pediatrics her claim that 2% of American pediatric Covid diagnoses required hospitalization. According to the AAP website, state hospitalization rates varied from 0.1% to 1.9% of pediatric diagnoses. No source has tracked the national number of pediatric hospitalizations.

Dr. Carroll then blithely assumes 2% of the entire District 271 student body will require pediatric intensive care, ignoring the difference between "children diagnosed with COVID" and "children." Not every exposure to COVID-19 leads to a sickness, nor does every sickness with COVID-19 lead to a diagnosis. I have no idea, and neither do you and neither does Dr. Carroll, how many children have had undiagnosed COVID-19.

She also seems to envision all pediatric hospitalizations will require a bed in the ICU and all pediatric hospitalizations will occur at once. Yes, of course, Kootenai Health is not equipped to handle 200 pediatric ICU cases at once. What makes her think that is even a remote possibility? Why would she frame her remarks to give the impression pediatric ICU patients will overwhelm area resources?

According to publicly available information from the CDC, the U.S. had 243,073 COVID-19 diagnoses in children over the past week. Right now there are 97 COVID-19 pediatric hospitalizations in the entire nation.

Dr. Carroll’s flat assertion that we will have “about 200 children requiring pediatric intensive-care” among our District 271 student population is pure fantasy.

Dr. Carroll has likely violated AMA ethics guidelines, which state, in part, that “physicians in the media should ensure that the medical information they provide is accurate (and) appropriately conveys known risks and benefits … (They) have a responsibility to be candid about the limits of their own expertise …”

She has also violated the AAP’s advice that “it is critical that the risks of COVID-19 to children be portrayed accurately and also contextualized in comparison to other common respiratory illnesses (i.e. influenza and RSV). Children have suffered tremendously due to policies that have kept schools and recreational facilities closed to them … Scientific and media reports that inaccurately portray the risk of COVID-19 to children can do harm by alarming parents and providing justification for ongoing restrictions to in-person education and other programming … parents and policy makers should be reassured that pediatric hospitalization for severe COVID-19 disease is indeed rare.”

During the evening of Sept. 15, someone at the Coeur d’Alene Press edited the article on cdapress.com to change some of the numbers and remove quotes from some of Dr. Carroll’s assertions. The article has no indication that it has been modified from its original published version.

I serve on the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy board of directors. I am trying to implement the best policy for our Charter students and our community, and this doctor is attempting to shape that policy by scaring people.

Much of what she says is factually incorrect. Her conclusions are based on compounding assumptions that are all unlikely. She does not even envision a worst-case scenario, but a worse-than-worst-case scenario. She then presents that impossible scenario as the most likely.

This is shockingly bad reporting by the Coeur d'Alene Press, and shockingly bad medical policy advice from Dr. Carroll. The stealth edits prove either that the CDA Press is aware that they have misrepresented Dr. Carroll, or that Dr. Carroll has realized she was factually incorrect and asked for the article to be modified. Coeur d'Alene deserves better medical leadership than this. Coeur d'Alene deserves better journalism than this.

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Scott MacPhee is a resident of Coeur d’Alene.

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Editor's note: Mr. MacPhee is correct that The Press should have indicated some of the information had been changed from the story's original version. On Sept. 15, The Press received the following information from Kootenai Health and changed the original article to reflect that information: "The article states 200 children will need intensive care, but this is incorrect. The worst-case scenario needing hospitalization would be 200 (2% of unvaccinated who will get COVID at some point). 1/3 of that 200 could require a PICU, so only 60."