A new nationwide U.S. study has suggested that “roughly half of all the hospitalized patients showing up on COVID-data dashboards in 2021 may have been admitted for another reason entirely.”
The Atlantic researched the authenticity of the coronavirus hospitalizations — and the inflation of coronavirus patients — in hospitals. The journalists studied nearly 50,000 coronavirus hospital admissions at the more than 100 VA hospitals across the country. The criteria used was to identify the patient’s need for supplemental oxygen and the patient’s blood oxygen level.
“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.”
Graham Snyder, the medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told The Atlantic that the idea behind the study and what it investigates is important. He did say the study would benefit from a little more detail and nuance beyond oxygenation Daniel Griffin, an infectious-disease specialist at Columbia University, concluded that using other metrics for severity of illness, such as intensive-care admissions, presents different limitations. A prime example used was hospitals admit patients to their ICUs with different criteria. (READ: CDC Claims COVID Is Deadlier Now, In So-Called Fourth Wave, Than It Was When Nobody Was Vaccinated During Second Wave)
“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.
This increase was even bigger for vaccinated hospital patients, of whom 57 percent had mild or asymptomatic disease. But unvaccinated patients have also been showing up with less severe symptoms, on average, than earlier in the pandemic: The study found that 45 percent of their cases were mild or asymptomatic since January 21. According to Shira Doron, an infectious-disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, in Boston, and one of the study’s co-authors, the latter finding may be explained by the fact that unvaccinated patients in the vaccine era tend to be a younger cohort who are less vulnerable to COVID and may be more likely to have been infected in the past.”
Shira Doron, an infectious-disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, said “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 […] we should refine the definition of hospitalization. Those patients who are there with rather than from COVID don’t belong in the metric.”
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