CDC Director Rochelle Walensky clarified that the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 is nowhere close to the statistic put forth by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Friday, while noting that Americans can still work to reduce hospitalization by getting vaccinated.

Speaking with "Fox News Sunday," Walensky provided an update on the current numbers, confirming to host Bret Baier that there are fewer than 3,500 children in hospitals with COVID-19.


"Yeah, but, you know, here's what I can tell you about our pediatric hospitalizations now," Walkensky said. "First of all, the vast majority of children who are in the hospital are unvaccinated, and for those children who are not eligible for vaccination we do know they are most likely to get sick with COVID if their family members aren't vaccinated."

During oral arguments in a case involving the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees, Sotomayor brought up children suffering during the pandemic, pulling out a number that earned her four "Pinocchios" from the Washington Post's fact-checker.

Supreme Court protester

A lone protester stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments against the Biden administration's nationwide vaccine or test-and-mask COVID-19 mandates, in Washington, Jan. 7, 2022.  (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

"We have over 100,000 children, which we've never had before, in serious condition and many on ventilators," Sotomayor said. That figure is dramatically higher than the figure Walensky provided. 

Walensky also pointed out that numbers of COVID hospitalizations generally include patients who go to hospitals for other reasons and just happen to test positive while they are there, as opposed to those who go to the hospital because they are sick with COVID.

"In some hospitals that we've talked to, up to 40% of the patients who are coming in with COVID are coming in not because they're sick with COVID but because they're coming in with something else and have had COVID or the omicron variant detected," she said.

Walensky did not have a number of how many children are on ventilators. Urging Americans to get vaccinated, she said she believes many hospitals do not have any vaccinated children on ventilators.


CDC Director Rochelle Walensky

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky gives her opening statement during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on "Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response" on Capitol Hill in Washington Nov. 4, 2021. (REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz)

The CDC director also acknowledged that not only is the number of child hospitalizations significantly lower than what Sotomayor claimed, it is far less than that of older age demographics.

"While pediatric hospitalizations are rising, they are still about 15-fold less than hospitalizations of our older demographics," she said.

Walensky also confirmed that children have a lesser risk of dying of COVID-19 than adults, while making clear that kids should still receive protection.

"Comparatively, the risk of death is small, but of course children aren't supposed to die," she said. "So if we have a child who is sick with COVID-19 … we want to protect them, of course."

One pandemic-related issue affecting children is school closures, which have been taking place either as a preventative measure or due to staff shortages if teachers or administrators are out sick. Walensky pointed out that schools managed to remain open safely under conditions that were worse than current conditions.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor poses in the official group photo at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC on November 30, 2018.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor poses in the official group photo at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Nov. 30, 2018.  (MANDEL NGAN/AFP )


"I want to remind people that in the fall of this year we had a delta surge, and we were able to safely keep our children in school before pediatric vaccination," she said.

Justice Sotomayor mentioned delta during oral arguments Friday, claiming that the omicron variant is just as deadly. Walensky seemed to reject the idea that this is true on an individual basis, stating that "on a person-by-person basis, it may not be," but noting that due to the greater number of omicron cases the death rate "may rise dramatically."