"Fox & Friends" co-host Ainsley Earhardt said it was a "shock" to learn that 97,000 children had tested positive for the coronavirus within the last two weeks on Monday, because she "had heard kids don't really get it."
Earhardt, who told viewers in April that she was worried about her mother being "very sick" amid the pandemic, expressed her surprise in an interview with emergency medicine physician Dr. Natasha Kathuria, who sits on the board of Global Outreach Doctors.
"We're all worried about sending our kids back to school. What is that going to look like for our country? And our elderly grandparents? And things like that?" Earhardt, who has repeatedly expressed concern about her own children's grandmother in the face of mockery from co-host Brian Kilmeade, asked.
"Ninety-seven thousand kids have tested positive? That was such a shock to me, because I had heard kids don't really get it — and if they do, they're all going to be OK," she said. "Do you know any details about that percentage of kids that did get it? Are they all doing OK? Do you have any deaths?"
"I don't know about the mortality and the morbidity right now in that group," Kathuria responded. "You know, that was just in two weeks. So about 100,000 new cases in pediatric kids just in two weeks, and I can guarantee you that number is actually much higher."
"We don't really test kids that often," she continued. "They're usually asymptomatic. They have very mild symptoms, but they're still shedding this virus. So that is going to artificially be low no matter how good we are about testing right now. So that's what we're worried about right now is sending these kids to school and then sending them home. And it's not so much the kids we're concerned about — though, obviously we are — but it's the grandparents, the parents, when their parents then go to work, who they're spreading this to."
Earhardt, whose network was revealed in a recent study to have pushed 243 instances of misinformation in only 5 days, then attempted to redirect Kathuria to a misleading talking point repeated by both Fox News hosts and the Trump administration officials: that kids who contract the virus only experience mild side effects despite months of reports of some children developing a rare but severe immune disorder.
"We're just going to have to be extremely careful, because most Americans want the kids back in school, but we want to do it safely," Earhardt said. "But it is true, though, that when the kids get it, they don't have the — you said it's just minimal side effects right, if they even see those at all?"
"Well, that's the majority of them," Kathuria replied. "The likelihood of death and the likelihood of critical illness is lower, but it's possible. I mean, a seven year old just died in Georgia with no medical problems, and we hear about this — and we see it all the time. Kids get sick. They get multi-system inflammatory syndrome from this. They can get ill from this — the likelihood is just lower. So they're not immune to this. They definitely can fall ill."
Fox News hosts have routinely backed the administration's call to re-open schools to in-person learning in spite of warnings from top health experts. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos compared the risk to riding a rocket ship in a phone call with governors last month.
"Education leaders need to examine real data and weigh risk," DeVos said at the time. "Risk is involved in everything we do, from learning to ride a bike to riding a rocket into space and everything in between."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a back-to-school decision-making guide on its website last month, acknowledging that some children "may be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 or may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19."
"For these children, parents and caregivers may need to take additional precautions with regard to school re-entry," the guide says, citing a July 20 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics showing that children represented 6.6% of all cases. That number rose to about 9% last week.
A CDC study published last week revealed that children do contract, carry and spread the virus.
"This investigation adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, and contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission," the study's authors wrote.
Last week, the president of the University of Texas sent a school-wide email informing the community that the school expects it will test "several hundred" symptomatic people each day.