The Texas Tribune was forced to issue a major correction this week after the news outlet vastly overstated the number of children recently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state.
The Tribune, in an article published Thursday, reported that children and children's hospitals in Texas were "under siege" from the coronavirus Delta variant and an unseasonable outbreak of respiratory syncytial virus, a contagious virus that can sometimes require hospitalization among young children.
"More children are being treated in Texas hospitals for COVID-19 than ever before," the outlet stated, noting that the Delta variant is perceived to be more contagious for unvaccinated children and adding that RSV, despite being largely dormant last year, is now running rampant again due to relaxed public health measures.
To bolster its claims, the outlet stated that "over 5,800 children in Texas were newly hospitalized with COVID-19 in the seven-day period ending on Aug. 8" — an incredibly alarming figure, indeed, if it were true. But it is not. In fact, 5,800 is the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Faced with the facts, the Tribune issued a major correction:
Correction, Aug. 12, 2021: An earlier version of this story overstated the number of children who have been hospitalized in Texas recently with COVID-19. The story said over 5,800 children had been hospitalized during a seven-day period in August, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number correctly referred to children hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. In actuality, 783 children were admitted to Texas hospitals with COVID-19 between July 1 and Aug. 9 of this year.
While the original claim was likely made without malice or ill intent. The mistake itself was egregious. The Houston Chronicle reported Thursday that roughly 40 kids per day were hospitalized since the start of August which means that in actuality the number is likely closer to 280 children who have been hospitalized — less than 5% of the figure quoted by the Tribune.
What's even weirder is that the Tribune, upon noticing the mistake, didn't correct the figure in accordance with the same time frame: August 1-8. Rather, it changed the time frame to July 1-August 8. It seems as if the outlet was embarrassed at how small the updated figure would be in comparison.
"That's one heck of a correction," tweeted Bloomberg reporter Steven Dennis. He's right.
That’s one heck of a correction. https://t.co/UBBgV0OXXm https://t.co/uhxkYABwR3— Steven Dennis (@Steven Dennis)1628800721.0
"We reported 5,800 in one week. It was actually 783 in 6 weeks," Washington Free Beacon editor Bret Scher tweeted, paraphrasing the Tribune's correction.
The story came against a backdrop of fearmongering about the Delta variant. In recent weeks, public health experts and mainstream media outlets have pushed the narrative that the new variant is much more dangerous for children than the original coronavirus strain.
But very little evidence has been offered to back the claim. The Tribune even notes in its article that "it's unclear if children are also becoming sicker from it than from other variants of COVID-19."
By overstating the concern, those health experts and media outlets risk further losing the trust of the American people, which could be disastrous if the claim ends up being true.