Study: COVID Hospitalizations Exaggerated—48 Percent of Cases Are Mild

A new study suggests the data on COVID-19 hospitalizations is exaggerated by the fact almost half of those hospitalized have mild or asymptomatic cases, The Atlantic reported.

Hospitalization data has been significant during the pandemic because those numbers tend to predict death totals, but they now might be losing meaning because of the testing of individuals coming to the hospital for other reasons, only to find they have mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to boot.

Hospitals may test all admissions for any reason for COVID-19, regardless of whether the stay at the hospital was due to COVID-19, and any patient in the hospital with the virus is recorded as a COVID hospitalization.

“As we look to shift from cases to hospitalizations as a metric to drive policy and assess level of risk to a community or state or country, we should refine the definition of hospitalization,” Tufts Medical Center’s Shira Doron, an infectious-disease physician and hospital epidemiologist and a co-author of the study, told The Atlantic.

“Those patients who are there with – rather than from – COVID, don’t belong in the metric.”

The study look at the electronic records for nearly 50,000 COVID-19 admissions at Veterans Affairs hospitals in the U.S., checking blood oxygen levels below 94% and whether the patient required supplemental oxygen. Failing either of those conditions, the study deemed the COVID-19 case as mild or asymptomatic.

In the pre-vaccination period March 2020 to early January 2021 – before the rise of the delta variants – mild or asymptomatic COVID hospitalizations were 36%.

But, vaccines have brought on a higher rate of mild cases among the hospitalized, representing 48% from mid-January to June 2021, according to the report.

Also, according to the findings, the vaccinated that were hospitalized had even a higher percentage of mild or asymptomatic COVID cases (57%) than the unvaccinated (45%).

Doron suggested the latter data point might be impacted by younger patients, who are less vulnerable to serious COVID-19 complications and are more likely not opt against vaccination because of youth, good health, or a past infection, The Atlantic reported.

There are some limitations to the findings, according to the report, because VA patients are not necessarily representative of the U.S. population, because of fewer women and children. Also, the VA hospitals test all admissions for COVID-19, but not all hospitals are required to.

And, finally, the data is only through June, so the data might have since changed.

“People ask me, ‘Why am I getting vaccinated if I just end up in the hospital anyway?'” Daniel Griffin, Columbia University infectious-disease specialist, told The Atlantic. “But I say, ‘You’ll end up leaving the hospital.'”