State figures undercount COVID-19 hospitalizations


The COVID-19 hospitalization totals posted on the state’s website and given in its daily briefings are incomplete and do not include all hospitalizations, the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy has determined.

The figure for total hospitalizations includes only people who were hospitalized when their positive test result was first reported, the Department of Safety’s Joint Information Center confirmed to Josiah Bartlett Center this week.

People who are “hospitalized after their case was initially reported” are included in the daily hospitalization updates, but are not added to the cumulative total for all hospitalizations, according to the Joint Information Center.

This results in a serious undercounting of the actual number of people who were hospitalized for COVID-19. In the first 17 days of December alone, the count is off by more than 100.

The state lists its cumulative total of hospitalizations on its daily updates as “Persons Who Have Been Hospitalized for COVID-19.” That number is the basis for the cumulative total on the state website.

The figure was 839 on November 30 and 877 on December 17, for an increase of only 38 hospitalizations.

But the number of persons hospitalized on each of those two days rose from 160 to 284, an increase of 124.

The discrepancy is caused not by hospital readmissions — people who were previously hospitalized being readmitted. It is the result of the state not adding to the cumulative total people hospitalized after their initial diagnosis.

The state should fix this discrepancy as soon as possible so the public has an accurate picture of the disease’s impact. Serious symptoms from COVID-19 can develop a week or two after contracting the disease. Not counting people admitted after their initial positive test result misses a potentially very large portion of COVID-19 hospitalizations.