Hundreds of thousands of Americans each day are catching the Omicron variant of COVID-19. If they end up in the hospital, no matter the reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will report them as a COVID-19 hospitalization.
From adults with broken arms to kids experiencing mental health crises, a vast swathe of the Americans testing positive for COVID-19 in hospitals aren’t there for COVID-19 at all. And yet, much of the media continues to report on record case numbers and skyrocketing hospitalizations without nuance.
Headline: record COVID hospitalizations.
Article: in at least two places where we have data, 2/3 of hospitalizations are not caused by COVID.
— Richard Hanania (@RichardHanania) January 11, 2022
This problem existed before Omicron. Back in September, researchers released a paper that found that in VA hospitals, more than one-third of COVID-19 hospitalizations were asymptomatic. All the way back in May 2021, two papers published estimated that children’s COVID-19 hospitalizations were overestimated by up to 40%.
But the CDC did not change how it collected and presented hospitalization data. Now, more public health officials and journalists are beginning to acknowledge the shortcomings in using hospitalizations as a meaningful metric to measure the state of the pandemic.
Dr. Cody Meissner, an expert in pediatrics and infectious disease at Tufts Children’s Hospital, said it’s problematic that the CDC hasn’t updated its reporting practices: “The CDC hasn’t really done that, because obviously it’s additional work, they have to collect additional information.”
“There are lots of those children who are in the hospital, especially now because Omicron is so contagious, they test positive but they have some completely unrelated illness such as trauma, so they need to be hospitalized but it has nothing to do with COVID-19. But the CDC still counts them as a COVID hospitalization.”
Every hospital in the country is testing every patient for COVID-19 upon admittance. This means that even asymptomatic cases, where the hospitalization has nothing to do with the virus, are reported as COVID-19 hospitalizations.
“What I am hearing from colleagues in the New York City hospital world is that up to half the recorded hospital Covid-19 cases recently (almost all Omicron) are people who checked in for other reasons (adults or children) and then tested positive with asymptomatic Omicron,” said Dr. John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University. “Remember that PCR tests can detect very low levels of virus for quite a while after an active infection has been cleared.”
This testing protocol isn’t applied to any other virus or respiratory illness comparable to COVID-19, be it pneumonia or influenza or other forms of SARS, said Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine and infectious disease expert at the University of California San Francisco: “Historically, we have never screened patients for a respiratory virus when patients…
Read More News: With Omicron, A Key COVID-19 Metric Has Become Highly Misleading