Recalculating hospitalisations

Delivered on By Justin Pyvis

Good morning! Health officials in WA have all but conceded that the current Omicron outbreak has gotten away from them, with local hospitals no longer taking new non-urgent elective surgery bookings from 28 February. WA’s Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said:

“We’re not there yet, we’re still early on, but it will start to double from here… we would anticipate within the next few days that our numbers will start doubling and people will notice when we go up from 36 to 72 to 144.”

Presumably that means a decision on the border will be made soon – there’s not much point in keeping people out of one of the most vaccinated jurisdictions in the world when Omicron is already rapidly working its way through the state.

Reading the tea leaves

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Note: Brent oil, gold bullion and iron ore prices are the second futures contract. Bond yields are 10-year Treasuries. The S&P500 is a snapshot 30 minutes before close.

At the time of writing the US S&P500 was up 0.76%, led by the financials and materials sectors (both up +1.4%), with not much in the way of news or data releases to move the needle in either direction ahead of the big inflation release on Thursday night.

Locally, the ASX200 added +1.07% thanks to solid gains for financials (+1.4%) following Macquarie’s record quarter, but most of the heavy lifting came from the materials sector (+2.2%) after iron ore price futures prices trading in Singapore briefly crossed the $US150/tonne mark for the first time since August 2021, a helpful side effect of Xi Jinping’s latest stimulus!

Food for thought

Omicron's milder nature but increased infectiousness means that up to half of hospitalisations are now admitted for something else or caught it while in hospital, reducing the previous correlation with deaths. UK data.
Omicron's milder nature but increased infectiousness means that up to half of hospitalisations are now admitted for something else or caught it while in hospital, reducing the previous correlation with deaths. UK data. Source

Are people being hospitalised for COVID-19, or are they being admitted to hospital and then finding out they have COVID-19? The same applies to deaths – are people dying from COVID-19 or with COVID-19?

It’s a bit of a pickle that has been plaguing official data in most countries for some time. How many “incidental” hospitalisations and deaths are there? Omicron’s incredible ability to spread along with its relatively milder health effects mean so-called “incidental” admissions are rising, making those questions more important than ever to resolve.

Anecdotally, we know that in NSW, “a reasonable proportion” of hospitalisations are incidental, estimated at up to 50%. The data are similar in many US states, for example in Los Angeles County it’s 66%, in Florida it’s 53% and in New York State it has been estimated at 42%.

British PM Boris Johnson last month said that up to 30% of people in hospital with Omicron actually became infected while hospitalised!

Thankfully efforts to improve the data are, supposedly, underway. A month ago Australia’s PM Scott Morrison said “we need to get a standard definition on that [incidental COVID-19] because these are the key things we have to track now… What matters is the impact [of COVID-19] on the hospital system”.

But since then… crickets! 🦗

That was until yesterday, when people close to the US Biden administration said it “is working on recalculating the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations in the US… asking hospitals to report numbers of patients who go to the facility because they have Covid-19 and separate those from individuals who go in for other reasons and test positive after being admitted”.

No doubt there’s a political incentive behind the recent push in the US (mid-term elections are coming up in November), but we’ll take anything that improves data quality at this stage. Hospitals have the data but for various reasons – probably because there’s a degree of judgement involved – they’re never made available to the public in a readily accessible and standardised format.

Perhaps governments can resolve those issues by defining a reporting standard for what should be considered “incidental”, shining a bit of light on what’s actually happening on the ground.

Doing so would allow politicians and health officials to make more informed decisions, while also improving the public’s ability to hold them to account for those calls, rather than simply referring to confidential “best health advice”.

Bits and bytes

📉 The latest NAB business survey found that “conditions deteriorated in January as the Omicron variant caused COVID-19 cases to reach unprecedented levels, triggering consumer caution and staff shortages”.

🥐 France’s President Emmanuel Macron met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to help “build a context of a security and stability on the European continent”. Be sure to check out the enormous table they yelled across.

🙇‍♂️ Apologies were issued in both houses of Australia’s Parliament yesterday “to people who experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or bullying while working for the federal government”.

⛸️ Two Olympic gold medals won by China in the men’s short track speed skating races are shrouded in controversy amid accusations of bias from officials. The women’s event wasn’t much better, with Chinese skater Kexin Fan executing a perfect Mario Kart banana toss with a marker.

🧐 The NSW Auditor-General found that there was “little or no basis” for how former Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her then-deputy John Barilaro issued up to $252 million in council grants in 2018-19, with a briefing note showing that her staff were working to “get the cash out the door in the most politically advantageous way”.

🏃‍♀️ Billionaire investor Peter Thiel and first significant outside investor in what was once called Facebook will step down from the board of Meta later this year.

🛢️ US President Joe Biden said if Russia invades Ukraine he would “bring an end” to the not yet operational 1,225km, $US11 billion Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany.

🎙️ Canadian online video hosting service Rumble said it would pay podcaster Joe Rogan $US100 million if he jumps ship from Spotify.

🎸 Neil Young doubled down on his attack against Spotify for its ongoing support of Joe Rogan, urging its employees to “get out of the place before it eats up your soul”.

🤑 Amazon more than doubled its salary cap for corporate employees to $US350,000 per year, perhaps seeking to retain talent in a world where stock compensation no longer stacks up (Amazon’s share price was flat in 2021 and is down over 5% in 2022).

😷 California’s government will abolish its state-wide mask mandate on 15 February now that the state is “on the downward cycle of it”.

🤡 Wait, there’s a spectrum of clown? UK PM Boris Johnson’s new communications director assured us that he’s “not a complete clown”.

🏏 The extended Australian test squad that will tour Pakistan for the first time in nearly 25 years was named, with the side unchanged from the Ashes other than the addition of Ashton Agar.