How Oregon Hospitals Collect COVID-19 Data
The super transmissible omicron variant has changed the COVID-19 pandemic, but the state of Oregon says it has no plans to change the way it collects hospitalization data in response.
Because omicron is so contagious and spreads so easily from person to person, more people are testing positive – just look at the spiraling number of cases reported by Oregon Health each day. Authority. Even those mind-boggling totals are likely a massive undercoverage, given the number of Oregonians who perform rapid tests at home and don’t record the results in any official record.
But, according to early evidence on the variant from South Africa and Europe, most of these cases, especially in the vaccinated and vaccinated, are considered mild and many go away in about a week. This has shifted focus to another key metric for tracking the severity of this latest wave: hospital capacity, and whether a system that has already been beaten for nearly two years from the pandemic can withstand another surge.
A key question now is how many people arrive at the hospital with what is known as ‘incidental’ COVID, which means that COVID is not the main reason for their admission, or that they have learned they were positive only on a routine test as part of an admission screening, as opposed to those who need hospital care to manage the virus.
The response can help the public and policy makers calibrate their response to the increase in cases and hospitalizations, from canceling or not canceling events to reinstating mask warrants for student athletes during competition.
Several other states are already breaking down COVID-19 hospital data in this way, determining whether patients are admitted “with” or “for” the virus, including Iowa, North Dakota and, since the start of the week, New York State, where between 50 and 60 percent of people admitted to some hospitals presented for other reasons and then tested positive for the virus. In some cases, some counties or hospital systems have started analyzing data in response to an omicron wave, from Jackson Health Systems in Miami, who reported that 50% of COVID-19 admit to having had an accidental case, to Marin County, California Office Public health. In England, the National Health Service puts the figure at about 30 percent of cases.
But in Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority “does not collect data on the cause of hospitalization of patients who test positive for COVID-19,” said Rudy Owens, a spokesperson for the agency. “We are committed to providing accurate and actionable data. We are constantly balancing the benefits of new data collection with the burden of new reporting requirements. “
Some state hospitals have the ability to track this data, Owens added, but not all. Instead, he said, the state continues to focus on other measures that demonstrate the severity of the surge, including those with COVID-19 who are in intensive care units or on ventilators. None of these numbers have moved noticeably in the last three weeks, even as the number of cases has skyrocketed.
Yet even patients with accidental COVID-19 wreak havoc on hospital systems, says Tracy Brawley, spokesperson for Oregon Health & Science University, where data analysts are working to break down that data, but where they are not yet accessible to the public.
“Because the omicron variant is spreading so quickly throughout the community, it is likely to increase the number of COVID-19 positive patients who are primarily in hospital, or for other reasons,” [like] heart attacks, strokes, cancer care, motor vehicle accidents and other conditions that require care in a hospital, “she said.”[And] even among patients admitted primarily for other conditions, COVID-19 infection can worsen their condition and complicate their care. “
Additionally, even patients with mild or asymptomatic COVID must be isolated in their own rooms, reducing available beds, and their caregivers must follow all COVID safety protocols, even if it takes time.
Legacy Health Systems is not tracking this metric, and its data analysts are focusing on “other priorities,” as direction from management, says Elizabeth Baker, a spokesperson for the company; Kaiser Permanente also does not track the breakdown of accidental COVID admissions versus primary admissions. Providence Health Systems told Oregonian an estimated one-third of COVID-positive patients are initially there for other reasons.