Are we overcounting COVID-19 numbers?

Nurse Amber Kirk wears personal protective equipment (PPE) as she performs range of motion exercises on a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Sharp Grossmont Hospital amidst the coronavirus pandemic on May 5, 2020 in La Mesa, California.
Nurse Amber Kirk wears personal protective equipment (PPE) as she performs range of motion exercises on a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Sharp Grossmont Hospital amidst the coronavirus pandemic on May 5, 2020 in La Mesa, California. Photo credit Getty Images

Amid the omicron surge, confusion over whether people are being admitted to hospitals "for" COVID-19 or "with" COVID-19 continues, raising the possibility that we may be overcounting our coronavirus numbers.

Sara Murray, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine and Associate Chief Medical Information Officer at UCSF, is calling on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to differentiate the two in order to give an accurate representation of what's going on in hospitals today.

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"The CDC needs to establish a standard definition here because people are meaning different things when they say for versus with COVID-19," she told KCBS Radio's "Ask An Expert." "I think, because of that, you need to take everything you hear with a grain of salt until we standardize this."

UCSF data shows that about two thirds of patients are admitted for COVID-19 – coronavirus is clearly causing their hospitalization – and about one third are primarily there for other reasons, although COVID-19 still impacts their hospitalization.

"We're seeing COVID-19 as this tipping point where it's exacerbating other conditions," Murray explained.

Patients may be coming in with a health problem and test positive for coronavirus, but COVID-19 symptoms may not be the primary reason they are hospitalized. "We had a patient who had some underlying cardiovascular disease, got mild COVID at home and actually came in with an arrhythmia and a cardiac arrest," she said.

Regardless of how we label people, for or with, she added that this is an incredibly difficult time for hospitals and healthcare workers during the pandemic.