It hasn’t been easy to track Michigan’s coronavirus hospitalization data this month.
First, the state coronvirus website stopped updating its hospitalization numbers between Aug. 3 and Aug. 9.
Then when the reporting resumed, it appeared the numbers had increased dramatically — from 460 coronavirus patients on Aug. 3 to 640 on Aug. 10.
There was also a change in format, making it unclear whether it was an apples-to-apples comparison.
Turns out, it wasn’t.
“The hospitalization data was changed as a result of changes in how the federal government requires us to post the data. It includes both confirmed and suspected cases data, where previously it was only confirmed,” said Lynne Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The fact that change wasn’t explained on the website wasn’t the only problem. The new dataset made it impossible to track long-term trends, a point made publicly and privately to MDHHS.
Wednesday, the format changed once more. For the first time, the website acknowledged the changes, and offered details on exactly what those changes meant for each category.
And under the new format, MDHHS is listing both the total for confirmed and suspected cases, as well as breaking out the numbers for just the confirmed cases.
So as of Wednesday, there were 632 adult in-patients with confirmed or suspected coronavirus, including 422 patients with confirmed cases. There were 160 coronavirus patients in intensive-care units, which included 137 patients who tested positive.
The latest format also offers an additional data point: There are 16 children currently hospitalized in pediatric units with confirmed or suspected coronavirus, including 11 confirmed cases.
Sutfin said the age cutoff for pediatric cases varies from hospital to hospital.
Meanwhile, the public reporting of hospital data isn’t the only headache associated with the new federal reporting standards. Michigan hospital officials are reporting the transition is a major source of frustration.
Hospitals had been reporting their coronavirus numbers to the federal Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In late July, HHS told hospitals to report to that agency directly, through a portal run by a tech contractor called TeleTracking, saying it would help the administration better allocate supplies and drugs.
Some saw it as further evidence of the CDC being sidelined, while hospitals officials criticized the implication that their reporting was to blame for supply shortages. However, some said the idea had merit: The CDC system wasn’t designed specifically for coronavirus and had its glitches.
Thursday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus coordinator, told hospital executives and government officials in Arkansas that the data collection system will be returned soon to the CDC, which is building a “revolutionary new data system.”
For now, the change-over to the TeleTracking system has been problematic, Michigan officials say.
John Foren, spokesman for Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, said the new system requires “additional and more detailed data collection,” and is “more cumbersome as some data is now required to be input in duplicate locations.”
“The estimated length of time required to input the data into the reporting tool has doubled or tripled from previous reporting guidelines, due to the time taken to collect, verify, and input the data into the correct reporting format,” he said. “Data is also required seven days a week which can be difficult; the correct personnel to collect and input COVID data are not always available 24/7/365.”
John Karasinki, communications director for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, struck a similar tone in a statement emailed to MLive.
“The reporting requirement changes were instituted by the U.S. Health and Human Services on just two days’ notice without any input from the states or hospitals,” Karasinki said.
“Michigan found itself in a similar position to many states where the state reporting system had to be modified to accommodate the federal changes, while hospitals had to scramble to update the data submitted to reflect changes in reporting fields, as a number of new fields were added,” he said.
“Since the implementation of the new HHS requirements, the state of Michigan successfully integrated their data system with the HHS TeleTracking portal, allowing some of our members to submit data to the state and having that data submitted to the federal HHS on their behalf,” he said. “However, we are still working through integration challenges.”
Despite that, Karasinki said, “The MHA will continue to work with MDHHS to make sure that the correct data is available and reported publicly in the interest of public health.”
COVID-19 PREVENTION TIPS:
In addition to washing hands regularly and not touching your face, officials recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone may be carrying the virus.
Health officials say you should be staying at least 6 feet away from others and working from home, if possible.
Use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home (door handles, faucets, countertops) and carry hand sanitizer with you when you go into places like stores.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also issued executive orders requiring people to wear face coverings over their mouth and nosewhile in public indoor and crowded outdoor spaces. See an explanation of what that means here.
Additional information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.
For more data on COVID-19 in Michigan, visit https://www.mlive.com/coronavirus/data/.
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