CDC’s explanation on hospitalizations is as clear as mud


Barrier island residents will have no idea, going forward, how many people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 illness in Indian River County if they rely on the arcane way the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports these numbers.

On Sept. 7, Vero Beach 32963 published an analysis of CDC Covid hospitalization statistics around Florida and in major metropolitan areas out of state showing numbers that seem to bear no relation to reality.

The CDC listed 70 people hospitalized in one week in Indian River County, when we knew first-hand from hospital officials that there were only six people hospitalized.

Brevard County to the north had the exact same 70 hospitalizations that week, according to the CDC, which would be more than amazing since Brevard County has roughly 3.5 times the population of Indian River.

Then last week the latest numbers for Indian River County showed 101 hospitalizations, up 44 percent from 70 the previous week.

But the number straight from a local physician who visited the hospital on Friday was eight Covid-positive patients in isolation on the regular floors, plus another two patients in the ICU, as confirmed by the hospital administration.

So the CDC’s number inflated the actual count by 91 patients, or 900 percent!

How could this happen?

“Per COVID-19 Surveillance After Expiration of the Public Health Emergency Declaration ― United States, May 11, 2023, here is how county-level hospital data is calculated. This has been the methodology since the end of the Public Health Emergency back in May,” said CDC Public Information Officer Lisa George on Monday.

“County-level hospital data, including new hospital admissions levels, are derived using calculations performed at the Health Service Area (HSA) level. An HSA is defined by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics as a geographic area containing at least one county that is self-contained with respect to the population’s provision of routine hospital care. Every county in the United States is assigned to an HSA, and each HSA must contain at least one hospital. Data presented represent admissions and bed use among hospitals within the selected HAS,” George explained.

We asked in a follow-up query, “What are the geographic boundaries of the health service area (HSA) which includes Indian River County?” to which George answered, “Brevard and Indian River.”

So apparently, if the CDC is reporting 101 hospitalizations for Brevard and 101 hospitalizations for Indian River, that 101 number is an average for the two counties? Or the total for both counties? The explanation was about as clear as mud.

The Indian River County Health Department was presumably unaware of the CDC’s reporting strategy, as local officials could not answer our questions. “I wanted to let you know that I sent your request to State Communications on Thursday and have not received a response,” Indian River County Department of Health Public Information Officer Stacy Brock said on Monday, in response to a request for comment from Director Miranda Hawker.

We also contacted Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office last week about how the CDC’s data reflects on Florida’s Covid situation. His staff did not respond.

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