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An omicron curveball: At two Colorado hospital systems, most COVID patients aren’t there for COVID

State epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy speaks during a news conference on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Two hospitals report that 60% or more of their patients who are COVID positive are there for other reasons

As Colorado’s hospitals work to keep up with an influx of patients during the state’s latest surge of coronavirus infections, two hospital systems have made an intriguing discovery: Most of their current patients who are positive for COVID are not in the hospital due to the disease.

Instead, the patients are what might be called incidental COVID patients — they were admitted to the hospital for reasons that are unrelated to COVID but were found to be infected after routine testing.

At UCHealth, officials on Tuesday announced the results of a review finding that about a third of their current COVID-positive patients were admitted for treatment for COVID, while the other two-thirds were admitted for something else. At Denver Health, medical director Dr. Connie Price said a review of patient records in January discovered that about 60% of the hospital’s COVID-positive patients had been admitted for reasons unrelated to the disease.

This is a change from previous waves. In August, Dr. Michelle Barron, UCHealth’s senior medical director of infection prevention and control, did a smaller review of COVID-positive patient records and found that about 95% of them had been admitted for treatment for the disease.

“So it’s a big turn in what we’re seeing now,” she said.

The exterior of the University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, photographed on Oct. 18, 2019. The hospital is the flagship of the UCHealth system. (John Ingold/The Colorado Sun)
A chart based on an analysis by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows a decline during the omicron variant wave in the percentage of COVID-positive patients who are in the hospital due to their COVID symptoms. The chart was part of a presentation during a media briefing on Jan. 12, 2022. (Screenshot by John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)
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