Northeast Tennessee’s COVID hospitalization totals jump by 557 after TDH adjustment

Local Coronavirus Coverage

The official number of Northeast Tennesseans who have been hospitalized from COVID jumped by 26 percent after a Tennessee Department of Health data adjustment this week.

New pandemic-long total 26% higher than previously reported after TDH deploys more accurate method

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) added an additional 557 Northeast Tennesseans to the rolls of those hospitalized during the pandemic, part of an adjustment that grew the statewide total by 6,435.

The adjustment occurred a few days ago. Using Aug. 25’s hospitalization totals as an example, when reported that day they totaled 2,141 for Northeast Tennessee.

Now, the figure for that date totals 2,698. In its Tuesday story on the change, The Tennessean wrote that many of the back-dated adjustments affected the time period during last winter’s hospital surge.

The change came after TDH data analysts completed a project that linked a more accurate source of COVID patient numbers to its “COVID surveillance data,” TDH spokeswoman Sarah Tanksley said in an email to News Channel 11.

That source comes from the Tennessee Hospital Association (THA), which according to The Tennessean gets “patient-level” COVID data from hospitals as opposed to TDH’s facility-level data.

Tanksley said TDH typically gets hospitalization data from case interviews.

“However, if we cannot reach someone or obtain medical records, which are not uniformly requested for every COVID patient, then we may not know if they were hospitalized,” Tanksley said. “Hospitals are not required to notify TDH of patient-level information for every COVID patient.”

TDH does require daily numbers of hospitalizations and beds, but the way that’s done doesn’t allow TDH to “match that data to individual people in our COVID surveillance data.”

Region’s hospitalization rate 19% above state average

The new adjusted numbers went up by almost identical percentages for the region and the state, with Tennessee up 26.6 percent and Northeast Tennessee up 26 percent.

That left the region with a population-adjusted hospitalization rate over the course of the pandemic almost 20 percent higher than the state’s, with several counties even further above the average.

Statewide, 449 out of every 100,000 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19. In Northeast Tennessee the figure is 536.

The highest per capita rate is in Sullivan County at 663, a full 48 percent above the state average.

The comparisons are similar in terms of deaths per capita from COVID.

Through Thursday, Tennessee had reported 198.4 deaths per 100,000 population. Northeast Tennessee, at 238.9, is 20.4% higher.

Ballad Health reported 340 hospitalized patients with COVID Thursday, a number that was exceeded only from Jan. 4-8.

TDH’s Tanksley said the more accurate numbers can help the agency “in assessing disease severity, impact of vaccination status, demographics of hospitalized patients” and other important statistics.

She also clarified that hospitalization data still lags real-time activity by a good bit. For instance, only 29 new COVID hospitalizations have been reported in Northeast Tennessee counties in the past two weeks.

“(T)he hospital data in the datasets is collected through case interviews and linking to other hospital datasets, it is not real-time,” Tanksley said. “We reflect “new” hospitalizations in those datasets to indicate the change day to day. The best indicator for real-time hospitalizations is the data in the hospital dashboard.”

That dashboard can be found here:

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