Ross: Are the numbers of hospitalized COVID patients exaggerated?

Sep 14, 2021, 5:48 AM | Updated: 9:20 am
COVID seattle, patients...
In this April 5, 2020, file photo rows of patient beds are shown at a military field hospital at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle in April. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

An article in the current issue of the Atlantic is questioning probably the scariest numbers of the COVID pandemic – the number of COVID patients being hospitalized.

Right now, in Washington state, that figure is at about 6,500 COVID-like hospitalizations for the last full week on record – down from a few days ago, but significantly higher than all the previous peaks. Which looks pretty scary.

But is it?

Because we don’t know any of the details of these cases – just the raw numbers.

So a group of experts decided to find out how many of these hospitalizations are ACTUALLY due to COVID.

The article in the Atlantic, written by David Zweig, is based on a new study of 50,000 admissions at VA hospitals. The researchers chose the VA because every patient gets a COVID test, so we know for sure who had it.

The VA data also made it possible to sort these patients according to how sick they were by tracking oxygen levels in the blood – so they had an objective measure of who was seriously ill, and who wasn’t.

And here’s what they found.

The numbers showed that last year, in 2020, before the vaccine and before Delta, 36% of the patients with COVID were only mildly sick or had no COVID symptoms.

Researchers then looked at the numbers from THIS year – January through June – and found that the percentage of non-serious COVID was even higher – close to 50%.

That would mean that about half of the patients whose cases ended up as part of the COVID statistics either weren’t very sick or were admitted for a reason not primarily due to COVID.

The dashboard numbers were lumping together the mild cases with the deadly cases, which would tend to overstate the danger.

So there’s some fuel there for the skeptics. But the same study also showed much better outcomes for vaccinated as opposed to unvaccinated patients, which would provide ammo for vaccine fans. Because while vaccinated people may find themselves ENTERING the hospital alongside the un-vaccinated, the study confirms that they are significantly more likely to LEAVE the hospital alive and healthy.

And that’s the other thing the dashboard numbers don’t show – that since the vaccine came along, the number of severe hospitalizations has dropped dramatically.

I’m not sure which side of the debate stands to score the most points here, but to discover that half of the people being hospitalized for COVID – at least in VA hospitals – have mild symptoms or none at all means a lot more people get to go home to their families. And that … is a good thing.

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Ross: Are the numbers of hospitalized COVID patients exaggerated?