The Hospital Paradox

Why do we see headlines every day about “emergency overcrowded hospitals?” Are they really overcrowded? What’s going on?

This nationwide chart from the HHS dataset shows that the number of COVID inpatients (the blue line) has risen sharply. But the total number of COVID plus Non-COVID inpatients (the yellow line) stayed flat as a pancake. Nationally, we’ve added about 80,000 COVID-positive inpatients… while total inpatients actually fell by 8,000.

What does this tell us? First, lots of people who are in the hospital for other reasons (a broken bone or a burst appendix) but happen to test positive are added to the COVID count – but they would have been there anyway. Covid isn’t the reason they went into the hospital. Second, non-COVID hospital utilization is likely falling again as people cancel procedures or even forego needed care. But regardless of why – overall hospital census hasn’t budged.

This picture looks the same in Maryland, where your HOTLINE editors live and see screaming headlines about overwhelmed hospitals. Even here, the total hospital census (yellow) is flat.

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