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NC's COVID-19 hospitalizations have set records for daily decreases, but are these all patients who have recovered?

COVID-related hospitalizations are high, but on the decline in North Carolina. A WCNC Charlotte viewer wanted to know if deaths played a role in the decreases.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina's COVID-19 patients nearly totaled 4,000 in mid-January with counts now closer to 2,500. Health officials state this metric is still too high but is showing trending in the right direction.

The state's Department of Health and Human Services reported record-setting daily decreases in this metric several times throughout January, with the largest day-over-day decline reported on Jan. 29. That day, the coronavirus patient count dropped by more than 180 people.

But are these decreases all people got better and were discharged?

It's a question posed by WCNC Charlotte viewer Scott Reid.

He wrote: "Don't mean to be morbid, but how do hospitalization numbers get affected by those people who die in the hospital?"

To answer this question, first, it's important to explain what the hospitalizations metric measures.

"If you're looking at hospitalization numbers, those are raw numbers representing how many people with COVID-19 are hospitalized on a given day," Dr. Brannon Traxler, South Carolina's Interim Public Health Director said. 

The North Carolina COVID-19 dashboard states something similar: "The number of hospitalizations helps us understand how many people were hospitalized with COVID-19, and how close hospital beds are to their staffed or licensed capacity."

So, essentially the metric shows the virus's total burden on our hospital systems.

RELATED: Tracking coronavirus data: Carolinas outbreak map

While health agencies also track numbers of newly admitted COVID-19 patients and other, more granular patient data in separate metrics, total hospitalizations do not differentiate between a new patient and someone who has been in the hospital for a while.

Similarly, when the number declines, it does not show how many of those are recoveries and how many are deaths. Deaths, of course, are tracked with a different metric.

"If it decreases, it could be for either of those reasons," Traxler said.

Have a COVID-19-related question or a metrics question? Reach out to Vanessa on Facebook or Twitter, or at vruffes@wcnc.com.

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