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New York To Begin Reporting COVID-Caused Hospitalizations Separately From Patients Who Just Have COVID

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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The state of New York is changing how it reports COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Rather than reporting every individual who tests positive for COVID-19 in a hospital as a COVID-19 hospitalization, going forward the state will separate those who are hospitalized specifically by the virus from those who are hospitalized for a separate reason but test positive, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday.

Under current reporting practices, most hospitals and health care authorities do not distinguish between the two groups in hospitalization data. Some officials and doctors have begun referring to the latter group as “incidental” COVID-19 hospitalizations, meaning that they just happened to test positive for the virus after being admitted for a separate reason.

“We talked about the hospitalizations. I have always wondered, we’re looking at the hospitalizations of people testing positive in a hospital,” Hochul said. “Is that person in the hospital because of COVID or did they show up there and are routinely tested and showing positive and they may have been asymptomatic or even just had the sniffles?”

As COVID-19 has become endemic, many experts have shifted focus from total cases as a key metric to hospitalizations and deaths. But hospitalizations may not tell a clear picture either. Like cases, which can vary widely between having no symptoms at all to having a severe case which results in death, hospitalizations can range from a child who breaks their leg and tests positive when they get to the hospital with no symptoms to an elderly person who is on a ventilator in an ICU.

“Someone is in a car accident, they go to the emergency room, they test positive for COVID while they’re there. They’re not there being treated for COVID,” Hochul said. (RELATED: 60% Of Teens Hospitalized With COVID-19 Have ‘Severe’ Obesity, CDC Says)

Hospitalizations have increased during the Omicron wave, as the highly-contagious variant has led to the highest case numbers of the pandemic in the United States. But with the variant proving less severe than prior strains, its unclear how much of that hospitalization surge is in actual severe COVID-19 cases, versus mild or asymptomatic positive incidental tests.

Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke to this problem Dec. 29, telling “The Rachel Maddow Show” that many children currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are not there because of the virus itself. A study from South Africa found that, during its Omicron surge, a majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations were not primarily caused by the virus.