Doctors looking at hospitalizations instead of daily COVID numbers to gauge pandemic

Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 4:15 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A new year means new reporting from the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH).

The department says it will start reporting weekly COVID-19 data instead of daily numbers.

The recent record-breaking daily COVID-19 case totals in Shelby County have been alarming. However, doctors say those numbers aren’t the full picture. They continue to say hospitalizations are the number one indicator of how this pandemic is going, and over the holiday, hospitals started seeing more patients.

Going into the New Year holiday, Shelby County saw two days in a row where its 24 hour COVID-19 case total was the highest since the pandemic began. Friday, the county recorded more than 3,000 cases.

Monday, long lines formed at Shelby County testing sites. It may be a sign that case numbers will likely get worse before they get better.

For nearly two years, health departments across the country have been reporting COVID-19 indicators daily. TDH says it will now start releasing those numbers weekly.

In an end-of-the-year press release, the department says it plans to return to pre-pandemic priorities in 2022 and added, “In the new year, COVID-19 data will be reported on a weekly basis consistent with other infectious diseases.”

Doctors continue to say do not focus solely on case numbers.

“I think in many ways, the most important numbers have always been hospitalizations,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Steve Threlkeld. . “It’s what’s responsible for showing us how many people are sick enough to be in the hospital in the first place and it also tells you how stressed the healthcare system is in general.”

In Shelby County, hospitalizations are reported weekly through the health department, though some hospitals report them daily. Last week, more than 300 people were hospitalized in Shelby County, an increase week over week.

On its website, Tennessee still has daily hospital numbers. The latest update on Sunday shows 1,766 people are hospitalized with COVID in Tennessee, more than doubling what it was at the beginning of the month.

However, numbers are still below what we were seeing at the end of the delta surge.

Over the weekend, national health leaders also tried to put the rising case numbers into perspective as the omicron variant is still being reported to be milder than past strains.

“Of course, we don’t want to get people panicking about asymptomatic infections, but asymptomatic infections are part of spreading it around to the community and many members of the community are more vulnerable,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN. “That’s the reason we have so many people in the hospital. The last count is there are more than 90,000 people in the hospitals and 1,200 deaths a day. It’s not a trivial situation.”

Mississippi and Arkansas have said they do not plan to move to weekly reporting.

Emergency departments continue to tell people to not go to the ER when seeking a COVID-19 test. You can find local testing locations here.

Memphis Fire Department says calling an ambulance will not ensure you’re seen any quicker at the hospital. Patients will continue to be seen on a prioritized basis based on needs.

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