State agency tells Florida hospitals to exclude COVID-19 patients with other conditions from case count

The state agency tracking virus data says Florida hospitals can exclude COVID-19 patients being treated for other medical conditions from the data, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Agency for Health Care Administration's reporting guidelines dated April 19 tell hospitals to include the current number of COVID-19 patients receiving care for virus symptoms and to "exclude patients receiving ... care for reasons other than COVID symptoms such as an accident, heart attack or childbirth." Hospitals are told to even exclude data from COVID-19 patients with heart attacks and strokes, which can be associated with complications of the disease. 

Currently, the agency only publicly shares how many people are hospitalized with COVID-19 as a primary diagnosis, by county. The agency began sharing that data July 10. Most of the information collected is still not publicly available, including how many test results are pending, how many patients are in intensive care beds and how many ventilators are in use.

"What's being made available to the public right now is woeful," said Jason Salemi, PhD, an epidemiologist and professor at Tampa-based University of South Florida. Dr. Salemi, who has developed his own COVID-19 dashboard, said it's harder to determine trends and identify new hot spots with only county-level aggregate data.

AHCA did not respond to questions asking why it doesn't share more information with the public. Hospitals enter all information, including the primary diagnosis, into the Emergency Status System, an electronic database, said AHCA spokesperson Patrick Manderfield. 

"From the onset of the public health emergency, the agency has leveraged the ESS to collect key information to inform the state's response," Mr. Manderfield said.

More articles on public health:
COVID-19 deaths rise for first time since April: 4 CDC updates
NYT: COVID-19 hospitalization rates in 20 metropolitan areas
New cases stabilize; more young people dying in South — 5 COVID-19 updates

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