The majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New Jersey were actually admitted for reasons other than COVID-19, officials said on Jan. 10.
Of the 6,075 people with COVID-19 and hospitalized in the state, just 2,963 were admitted for COVID-19, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said during a briefing.
“We have a fair number of what I’ve started to call COVID incidental, or incidental COVID, meaning you went in because you broke your leg, but everyone’s getting tested and it turns out you’ve got COVID. You didn’t even know it,” Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said. “My wife didn’t know it and still she’s not back in the in the game, but never had any symptoms, so there is a significant amount of that.”
Previously during the pandemic, states largely neglected to distinguish COVID-19 hospitalizations from incidental COVID-19.
However, after large numbers of people began testing positive after the emergence of the Omicron variant, including those who have been vaccinated—some of whom have required hospital care—a growing number of officials have started making clear that not all COVID-19 hospitalizations are the same.
New York state for the first time reported last week its hospitalizations with COVID-19 versus its hospitalizations for COVID-19. Almost half of the hospitalizations listed as COVID-19 were incidental, state officials said.
Massachusetts is among the other states planning to soon make such data public.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Jan. 9 that some hospitals that her agency has spoken to have up to four in 10 COVID-19 patients who are being admitted for other reasons. She didn’t know how many of the deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the nation were because of other reasons, and the agency hasn’t responded to a request for that information.
In New Jersey, nearly one in three hospitalized people are designated as fully vaccinated, or having received their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson at least two weeks prior to admission. That percentage is much higher than earlier in the pandemic.
Out of 82 pediatric patients, just 27 are in hospitals with a principal diagnosis of COVID-19, according to Persichilli. Many of the youth are unvaccinated, she said.
The split between “with” or “because of” COVID-19 isn’t entirely clear-cut, New Jersey’s top health official said.
“Half of them have a principal, what they call the principal diagnosis, so the main reason for being admitted. The other half, on the other hand, are testing positive for COVID and COVID then becomes a contributing or comorbid condition that could or could not worsen their principal diagnosis, their principal reason for being admitted,” Persichilli said.
“So you can’t really parse it out totally, half and half. If you’re admitted to the hospital with cardiovascular problems and you’re COVID- positive, that may be adding to the problems that you have. So it’s not as clean-cut as half and half.”
Murphy and Persichilli encouraged people to get a COVID-19 vaccine and, if they’ve already gotten the shot, to get a booster, as data increasingly show the primary regimen provides little to no protection against COVID-19 infection and reduced protection against severe disease.