One of the issues I have been examining recently is the fact that this third spike in COVID-19 infections has been accompanied by a much lower rate of patient deaths. I’ve suggested that we need to focus on hospitalizations as another marker of severity of new infections. The data on hospitalizations are now fully defined on a terrific website called covidtracking.com (from the Atlantic Magazine), where there is now a report on what is happening with hospitalizations during this third peak of infection.
To be concise, the increase in hospitalizations appears to be lagging increases in infections at approximately the same amount of time as it was during the last peak of infection — approximately 12 days. In contrast, the number of hospitalizations is markedly reduced compared to the earlier peaks. That means that far fewer people being diagnosed with COVID-19 are requiring hospitalization. This is seen in the following graph where the ratio of hospitalized to new cases of COVID-19 continues to fall from April through October.
This suggests that COVID-19 hospitalizations are following the same declining pattern as fatalities, although again the reasons for this are not clear. It may simply be the result of additional testing leading to early diagnosis or the inclusion of much younger people in the infection numbers. Regardless, this is very good news
Three caveats I think need to be made. One is that there are still potentially spot shortages in hospital beds in certain locales. This again reflects the cluster nature of COVID-19 infections. Second, this doesn’t mean that COVID-19 infection is not still dangerous in the elderly. Hospitalizations in those over 65 are much more likely than those in the younger age groups. Third, some have suggested that the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases is simply the result of increased testing. This is certainly not true as the number of cases over the past month has increased by 61%, but the number of tests has increased only 14% in the same period,
So the good news remains that despite significant increases in the number of infections, the rates of COVID-19 mortality and hospitalization are much lower than we saw early on in the infection in March and April.