Nearly half of all patients labeled as "COVID-19 hospitalizations" in Massachusetts were actually admitted for reasons other than coronavirus, but happened to test positive for the virus upon admission.
The revelation surfaced this week as, for the first time in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health began making a distinction between COVID-19 patients hospitalized with "primary" and "incidental" cases.
The new reporting guidelines revealed that 51% of the state's 3,187 "COVID-19 hospitalizations" reported on Jan. 18 were patients who were ill from coronavirus, while 49% were admitted for other issues but tested positive for COVID-19 at the time of admission.
Dr. Shira Doron – an epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston – revealed that the number of patients being treated for severe COVID-19 was considerably lower than 50% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations at her hospital.
"One day was as low as 36%," Doron told NBC10 Boston. "The state actually called and said, 'Are you sure that it's only 36%?' And so we took a look and indeed, none of those patients were receiving any supplemental oxygen."
"We looked at what the other hospitals were reporting that day and we found that we weren't an outlier in that," Doron added. "And so I think that, you know, from Massachusetts, where again, we do mandatory testing of everybody on admission, we may find relatively lower than expected, I think, proportions of patients receiving that drug, which is the standard of care."
"To identify patients admitted for COVID-19, the Baker administration is using the drug dexamethasone as a proxy," the Boston Globe reported. "The powerful steroid, used to quell the inflammatory storm in severely ill COVID patients, is also commonly used to treat other conditions, such as septic shock or swelling in the brain."
Patients who test positive for COVID-19 but do not receive dexamethasone will be counted as "incidental."
Dr. Maren Batalden of the Cambridge Health Alliance told WBZ-TV that individuals who are prescribed dexamethasone are "a good measure of those patients who are admitted to the hospital with COVID who have serious respiratory infection or serious respiratory complication."
Earlier this month, similar findings to the reporting in Massachusetts emerged out of New York state.
The New York data showed that 57% of all reported "COVID-19 hospitalizations" are patients admitted "for COVID-19/COVID-19 complications." Meanwhile, the remaining 43% were admitted to the hospital for other reasons, but tested positive for COVID-19 after being admitted.
Last month, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of playing pandemic politics.
Cruz retweeted an MSNBC interview, where Fauci said, "If a child goes into the hospital, they automatically get tested for COVID and they get counted as a COVID-hospitalized individual, when, in fact, they may go in for a broken leg or appendicitis or something like that. So it's over counting the number of children who are, quote, hospitalized with COVID as opposed to because of COVID."
Cruz responded to Fauci's statement by writing, "Now Fauci says this? Is this because pandemic politics have changed for the Biden admin?"