New York, Massachusetts want more data on COVID-19 hospitalizations

Officials in both states are asking hospitals to provide information on how many patients are hospitalized due to COVID-19 and how many tested positive after being admitted for other reasons.

Two states are shifting course in the way they collect data on COVID-19 hospitalizations.

New York and Massachusetts have asked hospitals to break down data on those that are being treated for COVID-19 along with those who were admitted for other health issues and tested positive. Both states have requested hospitals to begin offering the data in recent days.

The move comes as hospitals across the nation are battling heavy spikes in COVID-19 admissions, with states such as Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio reporting new peaks in recent days.

Officials in both states have said they aim to offer residents a clearer picture of the toll of the virus. The Massachusetts Department of Health said last week it would ask healthcare systems to break down the numbers starting Monday, NBC10 in Boston reported.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said last week she wants to “always be honest with New Yorkers about how bad this is.” The state health department has started offering the additional information in its updates.

“Yes, the sheer numbers of people infected are high, but I want to see whether or not the hospitalizations correlate with that,” she said last week. “And I'm anticipating to see that at least a certain percentage overall are not related to being treated for COVID. But we're still going to watch hospital capacity. Hospital capacity is still hospital capacity. You either have beds for sick people or you don't.”

Across New York state, slightly more than 12,000 patients with COVID-19 are being treated in hospitals as of Jan. 10, according to the state health department.

More than 6,100 patients in New York City hospitals have tested positive for the coronavirus. About half the city’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are primarily for COVID-19, according to the health department. In some regions of the state, such as Albany and central New York, about 75% of patients testing positive were admitted due to COVID-19.

In Massachusetts, more than 2,600 COVID-19 patients are in hospitals, according to the state’s health department.

Dr. Rahul Sharma, emergency physician-in-chief for New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said Monday about half of the system’s 1,200 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 were admitted for the virus. The other half were admitted for other reasons and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.

However, Sharma said the system is seeing serious capacity challenges, particularly since the hospital system is also seeing more patients in emergency rooms for a host of reasons.

“Our emergency departments are currently seeing pre-pandemic volumes,” he said in a news briefing.

In addition, New York-Presbyterian, like most healthcare organizations, is dealing with staffing shortages. “Today we have a much larger staffing shortage than we did in two prior surges,” Sharma said.

Some of the system's healthcare workers are testing positive for COVID-19 and missing some time. With shorter isolation guidelines and milder symptoms, some staff are returning to work more quickly after testing positive than earlier in the pandemic, Sharma said.

For the most part, the system’s COVID-19 patients with the Omicron variant are showing milder symptoms so far and they’re seeing fewer people with serious respiratory issues, such as pneumonia. There are encouraging signs the Omicron variant doesn’t attack the lungs as aggressively, Sharma said.

Currently about 10% of the system’s COVID-19 patients are in intensive care unit beds, compared to 20% last winter. Sharma said some patients with Omicron are getting discharged after shorter stays.

Still, the Omicron variant is far more transmissible, Sharma noted, so the system expects to be challenged for some time. New York-Presbyterian is projecting the peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations could come in the next two weeks.

Northwell Health, which operates 22 hospitals in New York, says it has 1,700 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19. About half are being treated primarily for the virus, while the rest were admitted for another reasons and then tested positive.

About 10% of Northwell's COVID-19 patients are in ICU beds, compared to 16% last winter.

New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic, has been preparing for the worst since the emergence of the Omicron variant. Some hospitals in the state have been directed to postpone elective surgeries.

Hospital officials in other states have said they are struggling with the rapid transmission of the coronavirus, shortages in staffing and an uptick in patients being admitted for other reasons. Many hospital officials have said this is the most challenging time of the pandemic.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a record level of children being hospitalized for COVID-19.

Officials said those under 18 remain the least likely group to become seriously ill due to the virus, but they are seeing more pediatric COVID-19 cases in hospitals than ever before.