By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4)– The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Friday reported 890 hospitalizations patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19: 682 unvaccinated and 208 vaccinated. But looking deeper at the numbers, some of those, are among people who are not hospitalized for COVID-19, but who have tested positive.

(credit: CBS)

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“I think is important to understand is that, in general, public health data is collected, in a very standardized systematic way across the country, and what we do is apply these black and white criteria to data that is often fairly grey,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.

Colorado counts the hospitalizations like other states.

“That’s the standard process across the country, it’s also the standard process that we’ve been using for many years for influenza-associated hospitalizations.”

Hospitals trying to contain the pandemic screen incoming patients.

“We test everybody who comes into our hospital, regardless of whether they have symptoms of COVID or not,” said Dr. Heather Young, infectious diseases physician and medical director of infection prevention at Denver Health Medical Center.

Other hospitals do as well.

(credit: CBS)

“Some people are going to have appendicitis and come in for that reason, well they’re going to get tested for COIVD and some of them are going to have an asymptomatic infection and that type of person is going to count in the state’s numbers as being hospitalized with COVID,” she added.

Patients are tested to try to contain potential outbreaks. Some hospitals like Denver Health have patients sharing rooms.

“Even if that’s not the reason for their hospitalization, hospitals really must continue to maintain all of those infection control practices to make sure that the COVID-19 infection that patient hasn’t spread across the hospital,” said Dr. Herlihy.

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The question becomes how many are in the hospital for treatment of COVID-19. Colorado and thirteen other states do a deeper dive.

“We have a team of trained medical extractors medical records reviewers that systematically go through and review medical records, as you can imagine that process takes a long time,” said Herlihy. “It can take more than an hour to review a single record and determine the cause of hospitalization for that individual. But we do that on a sample of hospitalizations here in Colorado… 75% of them were due to COVID 19.”

They break it out further in looking at the hospitalizations among the vaccinated.

“When we look at specifically vaccinated patients that are hospitalized with COVID-19 that number is smaller, but not substantially smaller, I would say so in that 60, 65% range probably.”

She said they did not track the percentage of those who are unvaccinated, but figured it would certainly be higher.

Dr. Young found a greater disparity at Denver Health Medical Center.

(credit: CBS)

“For many weeks in a row, I’ve been reviewing all of the cases that we have and quantifying the number of vaccinated patients who are hospitalized how many,” she said, explaining she had looked at patients in the ICU and on ventilators and other data. “And it’s really astounding how well vaccination protects against ICU stays and also ventilation.”

When asked how many of the vaccinated were admitted to the hospital for treatment of COVID-19, she said, “This week it was about 30% of our vaccinated patients admitted with COVID, who do have symptoms of COVID.”

When asked about how many among the unvaccinated are hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment, she estimated about 90%. Dr. Herlihy underscores the data published is consistent with that across the country.

“They’re collected the same way across the country and I really think that’s an important message here that we really need to have apples to apples comparison so Colorado can’t count hospitalizations one way and Georgia and Washington state another way because we wouldn’t have an accurate picture of what’s happening around the country.”

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A data page on the state’s website carries the title, “Hospitalized for COVID-19.” The accuracy of that phrase seems in question.

Alan Gionet