State of the Facts
Hospitalization data shows that at one point during the latest surge, children made up 13% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations. The Delta variant led to the highest number of child hospitalizations than at any period in the pandemic for which data is available.
The data also shows that while hospitalization spikes occurred in every state, states in the South and Mountain West were especially affected. These states have vaccination rates lower than the nation overall. Due to the availability of vaccines, the latest increase in hospitalizations was lower than the spike last winter.
All hospitals registered as Medicare or Medicaid health providers must report hospital utilization data regularly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). There are nearly 6,000 hospitals covered under the policy and they didn’t consistently report COVID-19 information until October 2020. As a result, complete hospitalization data from the first two COVID-19 surges is unavailable.
However, the current data provides insight into how the Delta variant affects the US.
According to the HHS data, as of October 7, about 5,200 people checked into hospitals every day with either a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection. In mid-September, the daily average was above 5,800 new patients per day, the highest level since mid-April.
While the increase did not reach the same levels as in the previous winter, it was similar in that older Americans continue to have the highest hospitalization rate. Still, during the Delta surge, the proportion of younger patients needing hospitalization was higher compared to past surges.
In early September, an average of 748 children per day were admitted to the hospital due to COVID-19 accounting for 13% of reported COVID-19 hospitalizations. For comparison, the previous peak for pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations were 611 per day in November 2020, when children were 7% of hospitalizations.
The statistics for hospital stays also hit pandemic highs for children in mid-September, with an average of 2,379 patients per day. As of October 4, the number of children staying in the hospital per day was 1,828, a decrease of 23% but still higher than any pre-Delta variant peak.
Despite the spike in child hospital admissions for COVID-19, September’s pediatric hospitalization rate was one hospitalization a day per 100,000 children, nearly six times lower than the hospitalization rate at the time for people 80 years and older.
Since the Delta variant is primarily impacting the unvaccinated, intensive care units at hospitals are impacted in ways similar to pre-Delta peaks. In early September, 81% of intensive care unit (ICU) beds were used at hospitals, with 31% of occupied by COVID-19 patients. In early January, 79% of ICU beds were occupied by any patient, with 33% occupied by COVID-19 patients.Vaccinated people accounted for 17,000 hospitalizations since vaccines became available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to HHS data, there have been 1.5 million COVID-19 hospitalizations so far in 2021.
Going forward, hospitalization data will continue to serve as a critical metric — along with case, death, and vaccination data — in tracking both the spread and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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