Social media posts claim that Betsy DeVos said “only” 0.02% of children are “likely to die” of COVID-19 from schools reopening in the fall. There’s no evidence she ever said that.
As a new school year approaches amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been publicly advocating for a full reopening of K-12 schools across the country, drawing critics who say the move stands to risk the health of children and teachers.
But across social media platforms, that criticism has taken the form of a fictitious quote attributed to DeVos concerning how many children could die as a result of reopening.
“Betsy DeVos said ‘only’ .02% of kids are likely to die when they go back to school during the pandemic,” reads a meme shared on Facebook. “That’s 14,740 children.”
DeVos did partake in several interviews, including on CNN and Fox News, on July 12, in which she pressed for schools to reopen and said that young people contract the virus at lower rates than their adult counterparts.
“We know that children get the virus at a far lower rate than any other part of the population,” she told CNN’s Dana Bash.
An April report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among nearly 150,000 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases for which age was known, less than 2% were children under age 18.
The CDC also cites a study of pediatric patients with COVID-19 conducted in China, which found that the vast majority of cases in children were either “mild” or “moderate.” Of the patients studied, 5% were “severe” and 0.6% were “critical.”
In rare cases, children with COVID-19 have developed a serious illness known as multisystem inflammation syndrome, or MIS-C.
Still, there are many unanswered questions about the rates in which children get and transmit the virus — especially since asymptomatic cases are less likely to be tested.
As for the supposed statistic in the viral posts, we found no instances of DeVos citing any such figure in her interviews or other public appearances. So it’s not clear how the “‘only’ 0.02%” quote came to be.
We did come across a different viral Facebook text post, published on July 8, that also made reference to DeVos and tied a different figure to another administration official.
That post claimed that Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said that “most children probably won’t die. Maybe 0.1%.” But that too was an inaccurate retelling of what Birx said at a July 8 task force press briefing (at which DeVos was also present).
When a reporter asked her about COVID-19 and children, including the infection rate among children, Birx said that of the tests performed “the lowest-tested portion is the under-10-year-olds. So we’re putting into place other ways to get testing results from them and looking at antibody in that discarded samples, and try to really figure this out, because parents have really done an amazing job of protecting their children.”
She also said “our data is skewed originally to people with symptoms, and then skewed to adults over 18. And so we are looking very closely into that category by using our antibody tests.”
Birx went on to add: “We know the mortality rate in under 25 from the CDC data is less than 0.1 percent. And so that has been holding. But until we know how many have been infected, we have no evidence that there is significant mortality in children without coexisting diseases. And that’s what we’re looking for right now, is to really make sure we’ve … overturned every rock and understand that in deep detail.”
So even Birx’s actual quote does not resemble the one that is now being baselessly attributed to DeVos.
It is also unclear how the viral claim calculates that 0.02% of the U.S. school population is “14,740 children.” Federal figures project there will be 56,678,000 children in public and private schools in Fall 2020; 0.02% of that population would be 11,336 students.
Branswell, Helen. “Researchers report nearly 300 cases of inflammatory syndrome tied to Covid-19 in kids.” STAT. 29 Jun 2020.
“Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Children — United States, February 12–April 2, 2020.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 10 Apr 2020.
“Information for Pediatric Healthcare Providers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 29 May 2020.
“Press Briefing by Vice President Pence and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force.” White House. 8 Jul 2020.
“Table 105.20. Enrollment in elementary, secondary, and degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by level and control of institution, enrollment level, and attendance status and sex of student: Selected years, fall 1990 through fall 2028.” Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed 15 Jul 2020.
“Transcripts | State of the Union.” CNN. 12 Jul 2020.
Wiersinga, W. Joost, et. al. “Pathophysiology, Transmission, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” JAMA Network. 10 Jul 2020.