Testing positive for COVID-19 in the hospital: Does it count toward hospitalization numbers?

Coronavirus Hospitalizations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you go to the hospital with an injury or illness not related to COVID-19 but then test positive while you’re there, does your case get counted in Austin-Travis County’s COVID-19 hospitalization numbers?

The short answer is yes.

“We are counting those people who are admitted for COVID-related illness and people who are admitted for other illnesses who happen to test positive. This has been going on throughout the pandemic,” Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, said in a joint Austin City Council, Travis County Commissioners meeting Tuesday.

The number of people in that category has gone up during this most recent surge of omicron cases, Walkes reported. She did not give exact data, but KXAN has requested those numbers from Austin Public Health.

“We do not know what the impact is going to be on those who are hospitalized for other things who happen to test positive for COVID,” Walkes said.

Mayor Steve Adler added that hospital data used to be a better indicator of how inundated ICUs might eventually become with COVID-19 patients. With so many people testing positive right now, he said that’s not so much the case anymore.

“Those numbers of people that are in the hospital for a broken arm or something are showing up with a positive test without the associated ICU risk for someone who has COVID, so they’re taking a look at those numbers right now,” Adler said. 

It comes as a surge of omicron cases sweep across Central Texas. Walkes reports roughly 1 in 3 people in Travis County are getting a positive result when they test for COVID-19 right now.

While Walkes did not provide data on how many people are entering the hospital for COVID-19-related illness versus people who are simply testing positive for COVID-19 after going to the hospital for other issues, she gave a breakdown of the number of people who are vaccinated versus not.

Before the omicron variant hit, Walkes says roughly 60-70% of hospitalizations were unvaccinated people — that’s now at 50% as more vaccinated and boosted people end up in the hospital. Walkes said those vaccinated and boosted people are likely the ones who are going to the hospital for unrelated illnesses or injuries and testing positive for the virus when they’re there.

Walkes said 20% of patients who were admitted during their last reporting period had a third dose of vaccine or a booster shot.

“Vaccinations are preventing severe illness and hospitalizations, however, we are seeing that in those who​ have comorbidities that there is some development of more severe disease,” Walkes said. “Take home message… this omicron variant is evading some of the vaccine protection that we’ve had in previous surges.”

Still, health leaders at the local and national level maintain people who are unvaccinated will face more severe illness caused by COVID-19, and are more likely to die because of the virus. They are asking people who are not yet boosted to get that third shot.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine in Austin, check out the city’s vaccine page.

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