The News-Times

State hospitaliz­ations near record

Officials: Fewer COVID-19 patients need intensive care, ventilator­s than in 2020

- By Nicholas Rondinone and Jordan Fenster

As Connecticu­t nears a record level of COVID hospitaliz­ations, health officials said the situation for patients has significan­tly changed since the number peaked in April 2020 — one month after the first person was admitted.

On Wednesday, Connecticu­t saw a net increase of 19 hospitaliz­ations for a total of 1,939, the third-highest census since the start of the pandemic, and 33 patients fewer than the peak on April 22, 2020. The daily positivity rate on Wednesday dropped slightly to 21.24 percent with 7,318 new COVID cases found through 34,460 tests.

Gov. Ned Lamont said that while hospitaliz­ations are up slightly, they are trending downward — a potential sign that Connecticu­t was “rounding the bend.”

But the hospitaliz­ation numbers tell only part of the story, according to Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer for Hartford HealthCare. More common now are incidental cases, in which someone comes to the hospital for treatment for a separate issue and tests positive for COVID-19. At HHC, it accounts for about 30 percent of patients, and at Yale New Haven Health, it’s about 10 to 15 percent of the cases.

“Many patients are seeking care for different reasons than COVID, so numbers can be mis

Josh Geballe, chief operating officer for Lamont, said 551 patients were in intensive care units and 405 on ventilator­s on April 22, 2020. On Wednesday, he said 284 patients were in intensive care and 179 on ventilator­s.

leading at times,” Kumar said.

Much different than the early peak of COVID-19 hospitaliz­ations appears to be the level of care required to treat the patients.

Josh Geballe, chief operating officer for Lamont, said 551 patients were in intensive care units and 405 on ventilator­s on April 22, 2020. On Wednesday, he said 284 patients were in intensive care and 179 on ventilator­s.

While Hartford HealthCare is seeing record levels of COVID-19 patients in its hospitals, the number of people requiring treatment in the intensive care unit or needing a ventilator to breath is “about 50 percent” of what it was during the April 2020 peak, Kumar said.

On Wednesday, Hartford HealthCare’s hospitals had 535 patients, 71 of whom were in intensive care and 50 required a ventilator.

Yale’s network had 738 patients on Wednesday, 106 of whom were in the intensive care unit and 68 were on ventilator­s.

Yale officials said 14 percent of their patients are in the intensive care unit compared with about 22 percent during the worst of the hospitaliz­ations in 2020.

“That’s a real improvemen­t, and it’s a testament to the vaccines, to the clinical care protocols that have resulted in many fewer patients needing the ICU,” said Dr. Tom Balcezak, YNHH’s chief medical officer.

Vaccine may be one of the largest factors in how these two peaks in hospitaliz­ations are different. When hospitaliz­ations surged in the early weeks of the pandemic, vaccine was a concept. But now, more than 2.6 million Connecticu­t residents are fully vaccinated, and of those, about 1 million have received a booster.

“What we have seen is even though hospitaliz­ations and deaths are higher perhaps than in the past, proportion­ally, especially because of the vaccines and boosters, very serious effects from the virus is much less,” said Dimitris Bertsimas, who has worked with HHC on modeling and analysis of the pandemic.

There has been some shift in age demographi­cs of patients as well, according to Balcezak.

“The average age is younger than what we saw,” Balcezak said. “It skews more toward middle age as compared to the spring.”

Kumar said at Hartford HealthCare, it does not appear to be driven as significan­tly by age, but rather by a person’s vaccinatio­n status.

“It’s mainly about the unvaccinat­ed or individual­s who have not been receiving boosters, especially unvaccinat­ed we are seeing increase and mortality in younger cohort compared to last year at this time,” Kumar said.

The latest state figures show that 31.7 percent of people hospitaliz­ed with COVID on Wednesday were fully vaccinated, a number that has remained relatively steady amid the sharp increase in cases over the past week.

But pairing vaccine with improved treatment options, health officials said outcomes are generally better for patients with severe COVID infections now.

“We are able to shorten the length of stay and successful­ly move them out,” said Marna Borgstrom, chief executive officer of Yale New Haven Hospital.

The same has been seen at Hartford HealthCare.

“Our morality trend is better, we have more tools in our pockets, we are a bit more proactive … medication­s and other treatments,” Kumar said. “We are saving more lives than before. It still remains a significan­t challenge if you are unvaccinat­ed.”

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