More than 10,000 patients contracted COVID-19 at US hospitals after being admitted for other issues

In the early months of the pandemic, more than 10,000 patients were diagnosed with COVID-19 inside U.S. hospitals after entering those facilities for other reasons, a new Kaiser Health News analysis shows.

Among those patients who caught Covid in the hospital between April and September 2020, about one in five died of the disease.

The patients include those diagnosed with kidney failure, heart attacks and sepsis, as well as those who went in for surgeries that would have been routine prior to 2020.

These findings demonstrate the importance of Covid safety in hospitals, including Covid testing for patients, protective equipment, and vaccination requirements for healthcare workers.

More than 10,000 Covid patients caught the virus inside U.S. hospitals, a new analysis finds. Pictured: Healthcare workers care for a Covid patient in Tarzana, California, September 2021

About 39,000 Americans are hospitalized with Covid as of November 6, according to CDC data. This number peaked at 124,000 in January 2021, during the winter surge

About 39,000 Americans are hospitalized with Covid as of November 6, according to CDC data. This number peaked at 124,000 in January 2021, during the winter surge

More than three million Americans have been hospitalized with Covid over the course of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As of November 6, about 39,000 Covid patients are currently receiving treatment in hospitals across the country.

This is a small fraction of the more than 120,000 Covid patients hospitalized at once in January 2021, but it still represents a number of severe cases that could have been prevented with vaccination and other safety measures.

And, according to a new analysis, a number of those three million Covid patients actually contracted the disease in the hospital – after entering the hospital for another condition.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) worked with researchers to analyze hospitalization data for Medicare recipients, as well as hospitalizations in the states of California and Florida.

The Medicare analysis included early months of the pandemic – April 1 through September 30, 2020 – while the California and Florida data went from April to the end of December.

Overall, the analysis found that more than 10,000 patients were diagnosed with Covid after entering the hospital for another reason.

Top 9 reasons patients entered hospitals in California – prior to contracting Covid

1. Sepsis

2. Acute kidney failure 

3. Sepsis due to E. coli

4. Chronic kidney disease

5. Schizoaffective disorder

6. Heart attack

7. Hypertensive heart disease with heart failure

8. Acute and chronic respiratory failure

9. Schizophrenia

Source: Kaiser Health News. Data covers April 1 to December 30, 2020.

‘The number is certainly an undercount,’ KHN reports, because only seniors and other residents of two states were included in the research.

Still, the findings from this limited dataset are staggering.

Out of those patients infected with Covid in hospitals between April and September 2020, KHN’s analysis found, 21 percent died of the disease.

That’s almost three times higher than the death rate among Medicare patients hospitalized for other reasons – about eight percent.

On average, analysis of Medicare records showed that about 1.7 percent of patients hospitalized with Covid between April and September 2020 caught the virus in the hospital.

But some hospitals had much higher rates. In 38 facilities, more than five percent of Covid cases among Medicare recipients were recorded as hospital-acquired infections, according to KHN.

In these facilities, infections were attributed to a lack of important safety equipment – such as N95 masks – as well as hospital leaders who did not adjust their protocols to protect against an airborne virus and a failure to test every patient for Covid.

At some hospitals, Covid tests were in short supply throughout 2020, making it difficult to identify new cases as patients became infected.

Patients who were infected in the hospital had originally suffered from sepsis, kidney failure, heart attacks, schizophrenia, and other common conditions.

Some patients were admitted to the hospital for surgeries that would otherwise be routine.

Steven Johnson, one patient profiled by KHN, entered Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Florida in November 2020.

He had contracted an infection in his hip, and was expecting to undergo surgery to remove it.

Johnson, age 66, had previously survived colon cancer and had taken careful precautious prior to his hospital stay, knowing that he was at high risk for Covid.

About two weeks into his hospital stay, he tested positive. He died a few days later.

Cindy Johnson, Johnson’s wife, suspected that hospital staff had infected her husband because she herself tested negative after Johnson caught the virus.

She also saw many hospital staffers going in and out of his room while he was not wearing a mask.

In an interview with KHN, Cindy Johnson questioned the Florida hospital’s safety protocols – particularly the hospital’s failure to mandate masks for staffers.

A spokesperson for the hospital told KHN that the hospital is ‘strongly encouraging vaccination.’

Victoria Holland, a nurse who worked at that same hospital in Bradenton, Florida, told KHN that she was suspended early in the pandemic after reacting poorly when she was denied safety equipment.

‘They told us nothing,’ she said.

‘It was all a little whisper between the doctors. You had potential covids and you’d get a little surgical mask because [they didn’t] want to waste’ an N95.

Holland quit in mid-April, and other hospital staff filed multiple complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

At this hospital, about eight percent of Medicare Covid patients treated from April to September 2020 were infected with Covid – five times the national average.

While the hospital will likely fall under the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for employers with over 100 workers, businesses now have until January 4, 2022 to comply with this mandate.

Experts say that vaccination is particularly crucial for healthcare workers, who can spread the virus to vulnerable patients in their care if they are not inoculated.