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Minnesota Department of Health criticized after changing COVID-19 hospitalization data

Crystal Bui
Updated: September 25, 2020 10:20 PM
Created: September 25, 2020 09:41 PM

The Minnesota Department of Health is getting some criticism after changing how it reports COVID-19 hospitalizations.

"We've been getting for five months, the data that says, 'Today there is so many COVID-19 patients in the ICU.' Or, 'Today, there are so many COVID-19 patients in the hospital,'" said Minnesota state Senator Scott Jensen, R– Chaska. "Over the last week or so, it's been trending around 130 to 150 in the ICU for COVID-19 and about 270 in the hospital. And all of a sudden, that data is gone."

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What you can see in data posted from the Minnesota Department of Health is the daily number of new patients hospitalized or placed in the ICU.

On Thursday, preliminary data shows three new cases of COVID-19 in the ICU and two new cases of COVID-19 admitted in the hospital. The state also shows the grand total number of patients since March.

The data that isn't easily accessible anymore is how many overall patients are in the ICU or hospital right now, specifically for COVID-19. And Jensen thinks that's a problem.

"If you want to find that, you're going to have to dig, you're going to have to add and subtract, and look at multiple screens, and the ease with which you can see it previously is gone and we're not going to restore it. That just blows me away," said Jensen.

He's not the only one concerned.

Dr. Pinar Karaca-Mandic, who is a University of Minnesota professor tracking COVID-19 data around the country, said the missing data is vital to understanding the way the virus works.

"That data is very important in understanding where a given state is in its sort of path and trajectory in regard to the pandemic, and whether we see changes, and slowing down growth of hospitalizations, for example. And we were getting all four metrics until recently," said Karaca-Mandic.

COVID-19 Briefing: Health officials discuss hospitalization data, ending of community surveys

She said getting that specific data helps track and predict mortality rates, based on current ICU and hospitalization numbers.

Karaca-Mandic said she's reached out to  MDH for clarification on the removal of the data.

"I am still waiting for some response," she said. "There has been some back and forth, just clarifying some of the data definitions. I still don't know if this is a permanent or temporary shift in reporting but, yeah, I don't have a clear answer currently."

The state health department tried to explain the change on a statewide call Friday.

"We made this change because new hospital and admissions data are more meaningful for tell us severity of disease than just telling us how many people are in the hospital on a given day. When we see an uptick in hospital and ICU admissions, it's usually after upticks in cases and is an indicator that more people are experiencing symptoms from COVID," said Kris Ehresmann, Director of Infectious Diseases at MDH.

Karaca-Mandic said she hopes MDH will go back to providing information on how many people are in the hospital on a given day because of COVID-19.

"By itself, I think this reporting is very important as states and public health experts make decisions: when to open, how much to open, whether to close," said Karaca-Mandic.


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