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Fact-checking Supreme Court justices' claims about flu deaths and kids with COVID-19 in ‘serious condition’

The VERIFY team investigated two claims about Supreme Court justices’ statements during oral argument, which have drawn criticism from some online.

Two United States Supreme Court justices have faced criticism online for claims made about flu deaths and child COVID-19 cases during oral argument over President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal workers and those employed at large companies. 

Several VERIFY viewers emailed to ask about fact-checking claims made by Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor. Some have claimed that Gorsuch said hundreds of thousands of people in the United States die from the flu every year. Additionally, Sotomayor claimed more than 100,000 children in the US with COVID-19 are in “serious condition.” 

QUESTION #1

Did Supreme Justice Neil Gorsuch claim that hundreds of thousands of people in the United States die from the flu each year? 

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

   

This is false.

No, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch did not claim that hundreds of thousands of people die from the flu each year.

WHAT WE FOUND

Some news outlets reported that Justice Gorsuch said hundreds of thousands of people die from the flu every year based on a Supreme Court transcript, and the claim was then shared by social media users. One Twitter user wrote, “Neil Gorsuch very confidently and very incorrectly said that the flu kills hundreds of thousands of people each year.” That tweet received thousands of retweets and likes. 

In the Supreme Court’s original oral argument transcript, Gorsuch is quoted as saying, “We have flu vaccines. Flu kills, I believe, hundreds of thousands of people every year.”

However, the Supreme Court released a revised transcript where Gorsuch is quoted as saying, “We have flu vaccines. The flu kills, I believe, hundreds, thousands of people every year.”

In a recording of the oral argument from C-SPAN, a nonprofit that provides coverage on proceedings within the federal government, Gorsuch is also heard saying, “We have flu vaccines. Flu kills, I believe, hundreds, thousands of people every year.”

The VERIFY team confirmed that Gorsuch did not say “hundreds of thousands.” 

According to preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been an estimated 1.2 to 2.1 million flu illnesses in the United States from Oct. 1, 2021 through Jan. 1, 2022. An estimated 730 to 2,200 people have died from the flu during the same time period. 

The CDC was unable to calculate the cumulative burden of the flu for the 2020-2021 season due to “historically low numbers of flu,” the public health agency said on its website. During the 2019-2020 flu season, an estimated 20,342 people died from the flu, according to data provided by the CDC. The highest death rate for the flu in the last 10 years was during the 2017-2018 season, with an estimated 61,000 deaths. 

QUESTION #2

Are there more than 100,000 children in the US with COVID-19 in serious condition, like Justice Sonia Sotomayor claimed?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, there are not more than 100,000 children in the US with COVID-19 in “serious condition.”

WHAT WE FOUND

In the Supreme Court’s oral argument transcript, Justice Sonia Sotomayor is quoted as saying, “We have over 100,000 children, which we've never had before, in…serious condition and many on ventilators.”

If a person is in serious condition, they should be hospitalized. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine says a patient in serious condition may have vital signs that are “unstable and not within normal limits.” Additionally, the patient is “acutely ill,” Johns Hopkins Medicine says. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there were 580,000 new child COVID-19 cases reported as of Jan. 6, 2022. However, only a small fraction of them are serious cases.

Data from the CDC shows fewer than 100,000 children ages 0-17 have been hospitalized for COVID-19 from Aug. 1, 2020 through Jan. 8, 2020. An average of 830 people in the same age group were admitted to the hospital every day during the week of Jan. 2-8, 2022, according to the CDC.

Data from the US Department of Health and Human Services shows that 4,661 children are hospitalized with suspected or laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States as of Jan. 10, 2022.

We can VERIFY Justice Sotomayor’s claim is false. There are not 100,000 kids with COVID-19 in the US in serious condition.

Editor’s note: Media representatives for the Supreme Court of the United States have not responded to VERIFY’s request for comment.

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