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La. doesn't track 'incidental COVID' hospitalizations, but acknowledges some virus patients are seeking care for something else

1 week 3 days 7 hours ago Wednesday, January 12 2022 Jan 12, 2022 January 12, 2022 5:58 PM January 12, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE – Some of Louisiana’s staggering COVID hospitalizations are in people who are seeking care for something unrelated to coronavirus but were found to be infected when they were admitted and tested for coronavirus at the hospital, Louisiana health officials told WBRZ Wednesday.

The rapid spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has sickened more people in Louisiana since the holidays and has been followed by an increase in hospitalizations.

The month started with hospitalizations doubling, leading to the highest point in more than three months at the beginning of January. Wednesday, 1,999 people were classified as being COVID patients in the hospital, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Louisiana has used the skyrocketing number of new cases and the surge in hospitalizations to implore people to get vaccinated, get a booster shot and consider altering plans.

Nationwide, fear set in during the last few weeks as states reported out-of-control positive tests and record-setting hospitalizations.  Just before New Year's Eve, hospitals in Baton Rouge sounded the alarm about being overrun - too many people were seeking care for common cold symptoms after gathering for Christmas.

About COVID hospitalizations, in some states, disease experts have clarified the data.

In New York, Business Insider reported this week, 43% of the state’s 11,548 hospitalizations as of Jan. 10 were admitted to the hospital for something other than COVID.

WBRZ on Tuesday asked LDH about the hospitalizations in Louisiana. Wednesday afternoon, the state said some of the patients counted as being hospitalized in Louisiana because of coronavirus were not originally admitted seeking treatment for the disease.

“Any hospital patient who is COVID positive upon admission is counted as a COVID hospitalization. While we are seeing reduced acuity in patients admitted for COVID, the explosive growth in cases has resulted in an overall high census at hospitals, leaving our healthcare facilities strained.”

LDH did not elaborate on the breakdown of patients admitted seeking treatment because of deteriorating health related to COVID compared to “incidental” COVID – patients who were admitted for a procedure and tested positive.  In fact, the state said it does not have such data.

Incidental COVID patients may be someone who was seeking treatment for an emergency situation, such as trauma from a car crash.

In an interview with The Advocate last week, Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer, said “most hospitals will tell you somewhere in the neighborhood of 30%, maybe 35%.”

Though, Kanter's communications department said the health department does not track cases where people were not admitted for COVID.  

"[LDH does not] have that breakdown. Hospitals have told us that the majority of the people in hospitals with COVID are there because of COVID," an LDH spokesperson said.

Kanter said there are some patients who are harder to distinguish because they may have lung issues that will be exacerbated by COVID.

Health officials in Louisiana also pointed to an article in The Atlantic, a commentary journalism publication, that suggested COVID hospitalizations overall - whether direct or incidental - strain an already stressed healthcare system.

LDH has been careful how it releases specific information about data amid the coronavirus. In 2021, it took health officials months to provide breakthrough case information related to vaccines.

No matter how vaccine effectiveness and hospitalizations are quantified, state health officials have stressed the importance of vaccines and masks for vulnerable people amid the ongoing pandemic.

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Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz

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