20% of those in Hawaii hospitals with COVID were actually admitted for other reasons, experts say

Hawaii officials are considering changing the way COVID hospitalizations are tallied because a growing number of those in Hawaii hospitals with the virus are ac
Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 3:28 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 7, 2022 at 8:27 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii officials are considering changing the way COVID hospitalizations are tallied because a growing number of those in Hawaii hospitals with the virus are actually getting care for other reasons.

Officials said there were 234 people in Hawaii hospitals Thursday with COVID.

But Hilton Raethel, CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said about 20% them were admitted for other reasons ― and not hospitalized because they needed treatment for the virus.

The figures underscore just how widespread the virus is in the community. Health officials say the Omicron wave, which has pushed daily case counts to record highs, is unlike any previous surge.

“The issue has gotten more complex,” said Raethel.

How are patients getting other types of care ending up counted as COVID hospitalizations?

Hospitals test all patients for COVID. If the person tests positive for the virus, they are added to the state’s daily total ― regardless of why they’re in the hospital.

Health officials say it’s the way COVID hospitalizations have always been reported.

But now those “incidental” infections make up more than a fifth of all COVID patients.

“Does it cause inflation of the numbers? I guess I’d have to say yes it does. But again we think it’s important to identify them for consistency reasons,” said Hawaii Pacific Health CEO Ray Vara.

Raethel added, “From a health care perspective. We have to treat that patient as an infectious patient.”

That means more resources, including staff and PPE, even for those without COVID symptoms.

Raethel said, “The question is where do you draw that line? We’re having those discussions.”

Hawaii has seen hospitalizations rise amid the COVID surge, and officials continue to say that the number of people in the hospital with COVID is a key metric and one that could trigger restrictions.

On Thursday, 43% of the people hospitalized with the virus were vaccinated.

“Most of those individuals are older or having underlying health problems,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

While the Omicron strain is more infectious, officials say overall it isn’t making most patients as sick as previous variants.

Green said with Delta, about 4% of active cases ended up hospitalized. With Omicron, it’s less than 1%.

Health officials believe that’s partly because the mutation doesn’t attack the lungs as severely as Delta. They also credit vaccines for providing a layer of protection.

Currently, close to 75% of residents have gotten two shots.

Fewer people are also ending up in Hawaii’s ICUs. Of the 234 COVID patients statewide, 23 were in the ICU. The majority of those patients are unvaccinated.

And, Green said, “no one in the ICU has been boosted.”

Health officials say the most dire issue at hospitals right now is staffing.

Close to 10% of frontline caregivers are out because of COVID infections and exposures.

Meanwhile, the state’s hospital census is nearing a record high at 2,299. Ninety percent of those patients are in need of emergency care or treatment for ailments other than COVID.

The state is currently trying to bring in more than 700 healthcare reinforcements from the mainland but so far have been unable to because FEMA has yet to approve the contract.

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