1 in 4 COVID hospitalizations are not due to COVID

Data Desk

Clinicians work on intubating a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital on August 10, 2021 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 surpassed another record in the state yesterday to 2,720 with Louisiana as one of the nation’s epicenters while the spread of the Delta variant continues. More than ninety percent of Louisiana’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. Lake Charles Memorial currently holds 52 COVID-19 patients, 25 of whom are in the ICU. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

DENVER (KDVR) — The data is tricky to gather, but the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimates about one in four people hospitalized with COVID are not there due to COVID.

State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said in an interview the state’s COVID hospitalizations are split three to one, but that the data is too complex to make it onto the state’s COVID dashboard.

“Those data are readily available [for deaths],” Herlihy said. “Those [hospital] estimates are just that. They’re estimates. And they’re not real-time data. The coding process can take months, potentially, at the very least weeks. That process…takes months. Those aren’t really real-time, public surveillance-type data that are publicly available.”

The state makes a difference between the people who die from COVID and the people who simply die with a COVID infection in their bodies.

“Those estimates have been variable over time,” Herlihy said, “but about 75% of people with COVID-19 infections in hospitals in the state of Colorado are there because of COVID-19.”

Currently, there are 952 hospitalized persons in Colorado who have either confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections. This is as many people as were hospitalized during the first week of January.

“Certifying a death is a very different process than diagnosing a patient in a hospital,” Herlihy said. “Oftentimes patients are admitted to the hospital and the treatment provider might not know why they’ve been admitted to the hospital. The purpose of the hospitalization is to figure out why they’re sick.”

The line is well-established with death data. Unlike death data, though, the hospitalization data isn’t available in real time. While death statistics are immediately available, the process to figure out COVID infections takes more time.

A team of medical professionals will review charts or hospital billing data and determine exactly why the patient was admitted. Herlihy said this takes, at the very least, weeks.

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