Corona patients: high incidence causes unclear data

fact finder

Status: 01/27/2022 1:34 p.m

The number of new infections is exploding, but the situation in the hospitals remains stable. However, numbers about Covid patients in normal wards are becoming less precise. One reason: the data is still being faxed.

By Patrick Gensing, ARD fact finder editors

Many more infections, but a stable situation in the intensive care units – that’s the situation in Germany at the moment. The omicron variant usually seems to be milder than Covid cases from Delta, and the booster vaccinations are also obviously having an effect.

Nevertheless, experts warn that the extremely high number of new cases could in turn put a strain on the health system – even if proportionately fewer people become seriously ill than in previous waves.

Data situation is becoming unclear

But how many people actually become seriously ill and have to go to the hospital? The data on this is not clear, as a look at Denmark clearly shows. The government in Copenhagen has just announced that it wants to lift all measures – despite many new infections and despite more people in the clinics who are recorded as Covid patients.

But this data is deceptive, as the responsible authorities themselves emphasize: Because among the registered Covid patients in the clinics, all those who have tested positive for Corona are counted. That means: Even people who did not have to be hospitalized because of Covid are counted as such patients.

A blur becomes a problem

This procedure was only a blur in times of low or moderate incidences, but the overall picture is now becoming increasingly blurred.

The Danish broadcaster TV2 collected regional data showing that around a third of cases recorded as Covid patients were hospitalized for other reasons. The corona infection was a secondary diagnosis.

According to the report, experts expected that the proportion of these secondary diagnoses would continue to increase significantly in the face of Omikron. However, it is not always clear to what extent a corona infection influences another disease. This means that even if the corona infection is not the main reason for admission to a hospital, it can still play a role.

A quarter psychiatric cases

In order to make the inaccuracy of the data more transparent, the responsible Danish institute in his dashboard the information on the hospitalized people has been expanded to include the category “in psychiatric treatment”, because these are also recorded as Covid patients if they test positive for Corona.

According to this, a total of 938 people are currently recorded as corona patients in hospitals – including 226 psychiatric cases alone, i.e. around a quarter. There are also cases in which it cannot be determined whether Covid was the cause of the admission.

In his current report writes the Danish institute that there are fewer hospitalizations because of Corona, but more patients with Corona. The reason is the many positive tests on Omikron. The proportion of young people who are hospitalized because of Covid is decreasing. The proportion of Covid patients is even higher among the elderly, but is also falling.

The risk for the unvaccinated remains significantly higher

According to the Epidemic Commission, the excess mortality last registered in Denmark goes back to the Delta variant. The reasons for this are on the one hand the time that elapses between infection and death, and on the other hand the delay in reporting such cases.

Rebecca Legarth from the Danish State Institute also emphasizes that despite the falling number of Covid patients, there is still a significantly higher risk for unvaccinated people of becoming seriously ill with Corona and having to go to the hospital.

How is the situation in Germany?

About the lack of clarity in the recording of Covid hospitalizations in Germany ARD fact finder already reported last year. At that time, however, the inaccuracy was still manageable, since the incidence was much lower than it is currently.

The RKI writes about the collection of data in Germany:

When calculating the 7-day hospitalization incidence, the reason for hospitalization is not taken into account, as this information is not always complete and valid. […] Any hospitalization related to COVID-19 must be reported under the Infection Protection Act. This means that the reason for the admission is related to the COVID-19 disease, but a direct causal connection does not have to be established at the time of reporting. […] However, if it becomes clear when the person concerned is admitted that the hospital admission is not related to the COVID-19 diagnosis, e.g. in the case of a traffic accident, then there is no obligation to report.

A corona infection does not have to be the reason for hospitalization in Germany either, but it can still appear in the data.

Apparently fewer corona patients

According to the “Bild” newspaper, this is increasingly the case. In Saarland, only every fourth officially reported corona patient has actually been in the hospital because of Covid in the past two weeks. According to “Bild”, 40 percent of the corona patients in Bremen had the reason for admission to Covid last week, and 60 percent had the corona virus diagnosed by the way. In Rhineland-Palatinate, 44 percent of officially reported corona patients were there because of the virus in the past two weeks, 56 percent for other reasons. However, as mentioned, a clear cause for hospitalization cannot always be determined.

Available data from hospitals show that the occupancy of Covid patients has recently been declining, but is currently rising again slightly. Experts see the very high number of infections as the reason. Sequencing also consistently shows an omicron proportion of at least 80 percent in Covid patients in hospitals, as inquiries to various clinics show.

Meldebögen per Fax

Clinical circles say that in many cases it cannot be clearly determined whether a corona infection is the cause of inpatient admission – and this information is not provided for in the registration forms. “With or because of Corona cannot be ticked,” it says.

However, it could be noted, for example, that corona-positive patients are symptom-free. But these sheets would then be sent by fax. This means: A digital evaluation is not possible or only possible after the information has been transferred to a digital system.

Blur is likely to increase

The unclear data situation is likely to deteriorate further. The German hospital company said on request that the extremely high incidences “will inevitably lead to more positive findings in patients who are in the hospital for other reasons” in the coming weeks.

According to the hospital company, these patients “continue to mean a significantly increased workload and thus an impairment of standard care due to infection protection”.

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