News & Politics

Study Suggests COVID Hospitalization Numbers Could Be Grossly Misleading

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Many of us have been skeptical about official COVID figures for over a year now. Today, as COVID hospitalization rates are being cited regularly to justify drastic (and unconstitutional) COVID countermeasures, The Atlantic points us to a study from Harvard Medical School, Tufts Medical Center, and the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System that suggests official COVID hospitalization rates are overstating reality by a factor of two.

The study analyzed the electronic records for nearly 50,000 COVID hospital admissions from VA hospitals nationwide. According to The Atlantic,  the authors then “checked to see whether each patient required supplemental oxygen or had a blood oxygen level below 94 percent. [The latter criterion is based on the National Institutes of Health definition of ‘severe COVID.’] If either of these conditions was met, the authors classified that patient as having moderate to severe disease; otherwise, the case was considered mild or asymptomatic.”

The study found that from March 2020 through early January 2021—before vaccination was widespread, and before the Delta variant had arrived—the proportion of patients with mild or asymptomatic disease was 36 percent. From mid-January through the end of June 2021, however, that number rose to 48 percent. In other words, the study suggests that roughly half of all the hospitalized patients showing up on COVID-data dashboards in 2021 may have been admitted for another reason entirely, or had only a mild presentation of disease.

This increase was even bigger for vaccinated hospital patients, of whom 57 percent had mild or asymptomatic disease. But unvaccinated patients have also been showing up with less severe symptoms, on average, than earlier in the pandemic: The study found that 45 percent of their cases were mild or asymptomatic since January 21.

There are some drawbacks to the study, however. Patients in the VA system are not representative of the U.S. population, as the VA patient populations tends to be older, with few women and no children. The VA also has a policy to test every patient for COVID, while this is not a policy in all hospitals. The study does show, however, that “the introduction of vaccines strongly correlates with a greater share of COVID hospital patients having mild or asymptomatic disease.”

Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University, said that the study can help the public understand that not all COVID hospitalizations are the same.

Nevertheless, the study suggests that the widely cited hospitalization rates for COVID can be misleading. “We also know that overcrowding of hospitals by COVID patients with even mild illness can have negative implications for patients in need of other care,” David Zweig of The Atlantic writes. “At the same time, this study suggests that COVID hospitalization tallies can’t be taken as a simple measure of the prevalence of severe or even moderate disease, because they might inflate the true numbers by a factor of two.”

Last year, it was widely suspected that COVID death counts were inflated because hospitals were financially incentivized to assume a COVID-19 diagnosis and patients who died with COVID but not from COVID were possibly all counted as COVID deaths. In Florida, a fatal motorcycle accident was listed as a COVID-19 death. An investigation has shown other deaths were falsely attributed to the coronavirus in the state as well. In Washington state, gunshot victims were listed as COVID-19 deaths. Now it seems that hospitalization rates, which are contributing to the increased panic about COVID, may also be inflated.

Related: [WATCH] Video Shows Hospital Staff Plotting to ‘Scare’ the Public on COVID-19