COVID-19 Hospitalizations Remain High, as Some Question the Number's Accuracy

Headline Roundup September 15th, 2021

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has fallen in recent weeks but remains high after rising for most of the summer. Now, new research is questioning the number's relevance.

The current 7-day average of new COVID-19 hospitalizations is 11,754 as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some hospitals in the South and elsewhere are reportedly suffering from staffing shortages and overcrowded intensive care units (ICUs) as hospitalizations increase. These hospitalizations have often been used as a key measurement of the pandemic's intensity. A preprint, non-peer reviewed study from V.A. hospital researchers questions that metric, based on the fact that the data doesn't specify the intensity of symptoms and that prior vaccination may offer patients extra protection. According to the researchers, roughly half of all hospitalized patients on COVID-data dashboards in 2021 may have only had a mild or asymptomatic case of COVID-19, or may have been admitted for a different, non-COVID-19 reason.

Stories of crowded, understaffed hospitals have been covered frequently by outlets across the spectrum, particularly left- and center-rated sources. The subject has been covered less frequently by right-rated outlets and voices. Skepticism about using the hospitalization metric was seen from left-rated and right-rated voices; these voices noted potential limitations of the V.A. researchers' study while questioning the media and the government for purportedly misusing the hospitalization figure.

From the Left

Hospitals in the southern United States are running dangerously low on space in intensive care units, as the Delta variant has led to spikes in coronavirus cases not seen since last year’s deadly winter wave.

One in four hospitals now reports more than 95 percent of I.C.U. beds occupied — up from one in five last month. Experts say it can become difficult to maintain standards of care for the sickest patients in hospitals where all or nearly all I.C.U. beds are occupied.

In June, when Covid-19 cases were at their lowest...

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From the Center

Alaska’s largest hospital has begun rationing care, saying it has been overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

Providence Alaska Medical Center said Tuesday it will prioritize resources and treatment to those patients who have the potential to benefit the most.

Dr. Kristen Solana Walkinshaw is chief of staff at the hospital and says that “we are no longer able to provide the standard of care to each and every patient who needs our help,”

Alaska, like other places, has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant of the...

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From the Right

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers, policy makers, and journalists have viewed hospitalizations as an important indicator of the disease burden, often citing increases in that measure as a justification for government interventions aimed at curtailing virus transmission, such as business restrictions and mask requirements. Hospitalization numbers do have advantages over case tallies, which are highly dependent on who happens to be tested, and fatality reports, which are a lagging indicator, since deaths may be recorded weeks after diagnosis. But because hospitalization rates reflect patients who test positive...

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