The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Friday on whether to prevent the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for private workplaces from going into effect. As expected, the right-leaning justices seemed skeptical that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had the authority to craft such a regulation without new input from Congress, whereas the three liberal justices appeared to believe the mandate was necessary given the public health emergency posed by COVID-19.
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor was particularly adamant that the surging omicron variant wave represents a real crisis. In discussing the issue, she significantly exaggerated the threat of COVID-19 to children.
"Omicron is as deadly as delta and causes as much serious disease in the unvaccinated as delta did," she said. "The numbers—look at the hospitalization rates going up. We have more infected people today than we did a year ago in January. We have hospitals that are almost at full capacity with people severely ill on ventilators. We have over 100,000 children, which we've never had before, in serious condition, and many on ventilators."
If by serious condition, Sotomayor meant hospitalized, then her claim is false. There are not 100,000 children currently hospitalized with COVID-19. In fact, if you tallied up all the children admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 since August 2020, you would still not find 100,000 of them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospitals have admitted about 82,000 COVID-19 patients under the age of 18 in that time period. The current seven-day average for this age group is 766 hospitalizations.
The overwhelming majority of children who contract COVID-19 experience only mild disease. The disease's age skew is so great that even unvaccinated young people are at less risk than elderly people who are vaccinated. Most kids admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 have underlying health conditions—particularly obesity.
Sotomayor's behavior suggests she is perhaps the most COVID-cautious judge. She is the only one of the nine who always wears her mask inside the courtroom, and she opted to participate in today's oral arguments virtually, from her private chambers.
That's her prerogative, of course. But if she is trying to justify President Joe Biden's far-reaching and unprecedented vaccine mandate on the grounds that the disease is uniquely dangerous to children, then she should demonstrate a more accurate recitation of the statistics.
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