The COVID Context the Wolf Administration Isn’t Giving

By Gina Diorio

It’s not often you’ll hear me say that Pennsylvania should follow the lead of our blue-state governor to the north, but today, I’ll say it.

As we continue to read that Covid hospitalizations are rising, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul added something to the conversation that’s been neglected for far too long: context.

Hochul revealed that half of the people counted as Covid-19 patients in New York City hospitals on Jan. 5 were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive for Covid while there. (Hospitals regularly test everyone for Covid before admitting them, regardless of their reason for being there.)

In other words, 50% of the number of patients counted as Covid-19 hospitalizations in New York on Jan. 5 weren’t hospitalized for Covid at all. Statewide, the figures were also stark. While 58% of Covid hospitalizations were “for” Covid, a whopping 42% were only “with” Covid—i.e., their reason for hospitalization was not Covid. For other regions of the state, the “with” Covid figure ranged from 21% to 38%.

A few days later, our neighbor to the east released similar context. On Jan. 10, News12 New Jersey reported that state Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli said that of the 6,075 individuals hospitalized with Covid-19 in New Jersey, 2,963 of them were hospitalized primarily for Covid. In other words, 52% of “Covid” hospitalizations in New Jersey were hospitalized for reasons other than Covid.

Across the country, a story out of one California hospital system was similar: “After reviewing the charts of every Covid-positive patient at UCSF [University of California, San Francisco] hospitals on Jan. 4, Dr. Jeanne Noble, an associate professor of emergency medicine at UCSF, determined that 70% of them were in the hospital for other reasons.”

Even CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has begun admitting as much: “In some hospitals that we’ve talked to, up to 40% of the patients who are coming in with Covid-19 are coming in not because they’re sick with Covid, but because they’re coming in with something else and have had to — Covid or the omicron variant detected,” she recently said in response to a question from FOX News Sunday host Brett Baier.

Of course, for those of us who have been calling out governments for well over a year for giving out shoddy and misleading data, this news hardly came as a surprise. While media headlines almost daily tell of surging cases and overflowing hospitals, context has long been virtually absent.

So, the question remains: When will Governor Tom Wolf’s administration follow New York, New Jersey, and even the CDC in providing context for Pennsylvania’s Covid hospitalizations?

Just this week, Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter admitted that “initial data suggest that fewer patients are being admitted [to hospitals] specifically for COVID-19.” But as for the actual numbers, the Department of Health still hasn’t said.

When will Governor Tom Wolf’s administration follow New York, New Jersey, and even the CDC in providing context for Pennsylvanian’s Covid hospitalizations?

In preparing to write this piece, I reached out to the administration to give them an opportunity to comment.

Specifically, I sent this to the Department of Health: “Recently, both New York and New Jersey released the breakdown of how many Covid hospitalizations are ‘for’ covid vs. ‘with’ Covid, the latter being cases in which an individual was hospitalized for another reason but then a Covid test came back positive. Does the PA Department of Health plan to release similar data? If so, when can that be expected? If not, what is the reason for not releasing this data?

Their response? Silence.

I’ve written in these pages before on how difficult it is to get information from this administration.

Has the administration purposefully been hiding the context on Covid hospitalizations? Or are they not tracking “with Covid” vs. “for Covid”?

I’m not sure which would be worse: Intentional opaqueness or a level of incompetence that’s failing to even track relevant Covid data.

Whatever the case, Pennsylvanians deserve to know the full picture. Transparency shouldn’t be this difficult.

Gina Diorio is the Public Affairs Director at Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania.