It’s the question so many of us have been wondering ever since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic over a year and a half ago. Just how many of those scary hospitalization numbers we keep hearing about are and were there *with* and not *because of* the virus itself?
It is, after all, a highly contagious respiratory virus, so it’s going to infect a lot of people, including those in hospitals for other health reasons. However, information on that topic has been difficult if not impossible to obtain … that is, until researchers took on the difficult task of combing through tens of thousands of VA hospital records to find a shocking statistic that could likely be true nationwide – almost HALF of Covid-19 ‘hospitalizations’ in 2021 have either mild or asymptomatic cases. That means they are either hospitalized for something else entirely or they are being (unnecessarily?) admitted for a mild Covid case.
Here’s The Atlantic’s David Zweig with the scoop:
STUDY suggests that almost half of Covid hospitalizations are for mild, asymptomatic, or incidental cases
— David Zweig (@davidzweig) September 13, 2021
[Researchers] analyzed the electronic records for nearly 50,000 COVID hospital admissions at the more than 100 VA hospitals across the country. Then they checked to see whether each patient required supplemental oxygen or had a blood oxygen level below 94 percent. (The latter criterion is based on the National Institutes of Health definition of “severe COVID.”) If either of these conditions was met, the authors classified that patient as having moderate to severe disease; otherwise, the case was considered mild or asymptomatic.
The study found that from March 2020 through early January 2021—before vaccination was widespread, and before the Delta variant had arrived—the proportion of patients with mild or asymptomatic disease was 36 percent. From mid-January through the end of June 2021, however, that number rose to 48 percent. In other words, the study suggests that roughly half of all the hospitalized patients showing up on COVID-data dashboards in 2021 may have been admitted for another reason entirely, or had only a mild presentation of disease.
Additionally, Zweig writes, the study found that “the introduction of vaccines strongly correlates with a greater share of COVID hospital patients having mild or asymptomatic disease.”
Zweig concluded by explaining how Covid hospitalization rates “can be misleading, if not considered carefully.”
Clearly many patients right now are seriously ill. We also know that overcrowding of hospitals by COVID patients with even mild illness can have negative implications for patients in need of other care. At the same time, this study suggests that COVID hospitalization tallies can’t be taken as a simple measure of the prevalence of severe or even moderate disease, because they might inflate the true numbers by a factor of two. “As we look to shift from cases to hospitalizations as a metric to drive policy and assess level of risk to a community or state or country,” Doron told me, referring to decisions about school closures, business restrictions, mask requirements, and so on, “we should refine the definition of hospitalization. Those patients who are there with rather than from COVID don’t belong in the metric.”
Given the prevalence of hysterical headlines about hospitalizations, this is important information indeed!
“…the study suggests that roughly half of all the hospitalized patients showing up on COVID-data dashboards in 2021 may have been admitted for another reason entirely, or had only a mild presentation of disease.”
This is important. https://t.co/ywuPUjCq78
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) September 14, 2021