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Data Suggest Fewer Hospitalized with COVID as Main Cause

Still, Pennsylvania hospitals face a record-setting surge of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, causing overcrowded emergency rooms, cutbacks of non-emergency surgeries and patients being cared for in make-shift spaces.

(TNS) - Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary says “initial data suggest that fewer patients are being admitted [to hospitals] specifically for COVID-19.”

It adds to recent acknowledgments by government and health officials that COVID-19 hospitalization numbers include people who tested positive after being admitted, but aren’t necessarily severely ill with COVID-19.

Such cases are being called “incidental COVID-19.”

Still, Pennsylvania hospitals face a record-setting surge of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19. The overall pressure on hospitals is causing overcrowded emergency rooms, cutbacks of non-emergency surgeries and patients being cared for in make-shift spaces.

Moreover, the numbers of people with COVID-19 in intensive care or on breathing ventilators, which are a reflection of severely-ill patients, are at the highest levels since last winter and before many people were vaccinated.

“In talking to healthcare workers and hospital leaders, it is clear that regardless of why they are admitted to the hospital, every patient with COVID-19 places significant strain on healthcare workers because they require additional care and precautions such as isolation and PPE,” Acting State Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter said in a weekly update on COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.

At a separate news conference, Klinepeter said the state expects this week to select locations for four regional “decompression” sites to handle overflow from hospitals. She said they will open Feb. 1.

Klinepeter said they will be located at hospitals with surplus licensed beds that aren’t being used because of lack of staff. The state will help with staffing.

Cases of patients with other illnesses testing positive for COVID-19 have increased as a result of the ultra-contagious omicron variant, which has infected record numbers of people, but seems to result in milder illness overall.

As a result, COVID-19 hospitalizations remain an important barometer of the severity of the pandemic, but are being looked at differently.

For example, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul recently ordered hospitals to disclose how many of their patients with COVID-19 were admitted for other reasons.

Still, some experts have responded that it’s often difficult to determine and separate the exact impact of COVID-19 in patients who have combinations of illnesses.

Asked about the situation last week, doctors at three Harrisburg region health systems said the vast majority of their patients listed as having COVID-19 are severely ill because of it, suffering from things like pneumonia and respiratory failure.

Pennsylvania’s weekly update included no specific data regarding incidental hospitalizations.

Meanwhile, more than 7,100 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Pennsylvania as of early Wednesday, according to health department data. That’s nearly 900 more than last winter’s peak. A large portion of the new hospitalizations have happened since Christmas.

One of the roles of the “decompression sites” opening on Feb. 1 will be to care for people who need long-term care but couldn’t be discharged from the hospital because of lack of nursing home openings.

Hospitals say one of the problems involves discharging patients to lower levels of care. This causes backups extending to people being kept in the emergency department for many, many hours awaiting an open bed.

Klinepeter said Tuesday the state presently lacks people to send to hospitals to help them manage the surge, but it is applying for federal funds to pay for people it will send to the regional sites. For now, it has been helping hospitals shift patients to other hospitals which are less stressed. The state is also connecting hospitals to staffing agencies and helping them apply for federal funding to help pay for agency staff, which costs much more.

Asked whether the opening of the regional sites will come too late, Klinepeter said predictions call for the hospital surge to peak later in February.

As of Wednesday morning, the influential University of Washington model predicted new infections had peaked in Pennsylvania around Jan. 7. It predicted hospitalizations will peak around Jan. 25, with the number returning to the mid-November level around Feb. 23, and to pre-pandemic levels in late winter or early spring.

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