Tennessee Underreports COVID Hospitalizations as State Among Hardest Hit by Delta

Tennessee has underreported the number of patients hospitalized with COVID since summer last year, the state's health department has confirmed.

The state hospitalized around 5,100 more people over the last 14 months than previously reported, The Tennessean reported citing new data from the state's department of health.

The underreporting occurred every day, often with as many as dozens of cases not tracked. Occurring since the beginning of summer 2020, the largest amount of unreported cases were registered during the winter when the virus surged. The revised total of hospitalizations in the state now stands at 29,694.

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health, Sarah Tanksley, told The Tennessean that the unreported COVID hospitalizations came to light as the agency factored data from the Tennessee Hospital Association into its tracking system.

This new data is more detailed than data previously used by the department of health in the state as it is based upon patient-level virus data from hospitals, rather than facility-level data, Tanksley said.

According to Tanksley, the department was previously unaware of how to combine these two data sources and thus did not have a complete account of the impact the virus has had on the state until recently.

Bill Christian, a media spokesperson for Tennessee Department of Health, told Newsweek: "Our data stewards completed a project linking an additional hospitalization data source from the TN Hospital Association to our COVID surveillance data.

"This is not a marker of current or recent hospitalizations but rather reflects all patients that have ever been hospitalized with COVID-19 and is helpful in assessing disease severity, the impact of vaccination status, the demographics of hospitalized patients, etc."

The news comes at a time when Tennessee is among the states hardest hit by COVID. The state is currently reporting an average of 6,758 cases of COVID a day, with an average of 2,611 hospitalizations and around 35 deaths, according to The New York Times COVID tracker. The state is experiencing 99 cases of COVID per 100,000 people. This is second only to South Carolina with 100 cases per 100,000 people.

Tennesse could soon overtake South Carolina, as while the latter's cases have increased by 52 percent over the past two weeks, the former's have increased by 56 percent. This is compared to an average increase of just 14 percent across the United States as a whole.

Whereas Tennesse is second to top in terms of cases per capita, it is close to the bottom in statistics that show the percentage of the population that has received a COVID vaccination. Only 42 percent of Tennesseans are currently fully vaccinated, trailing the U.S average of 52 percent.

Tanksley hopes that the more complete picture the health department now has of COVID cases could prove helpful in both assessing the impact of the disease and for monitoring the positive effect vaccination status is having on hospitalizations.

"These show as 'new' hospitalizations in the datasets, but they are only "new" in the sense that they were just added to the database – not that the hospitalizations happened recently," Christian added. "This will not impact the hospitalization trends highlighted on our hospital dashboard."

This article has been updated with comment from Bill Christian.

Nurses care for Covid-19 patient in ICU
Nurses, unrelated to the situation in Tennessee, care for a COVID patient at a hospital in California on August 27, 2021. Tennesse's department of health has confirmed that over 5,000 COVID hospital admissions went unregistered over the last 14 months. NIC COURY / Contributor/GETTY