IJERPH, Vol. 19, Pages 12533: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Respiratory Illness Admissions at a Single Academic Institution in Arkansas (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health)
Background: The first reported COVID-19 case in Arkansas was on 11 March 2020, two months after the first reported case in the United States. We sought to analyze rates of respiratory illness and influenza tests during the 2019/2020 influenza season compared to pre-pandemic years to assess whether there were higher rates of respiratory illness than expected, which may suggest undiagnosed COVID-19 cases. Methods: Using data collected from the data warehouse of the largest hospital in Arkansas, ICD-9 and ICD-10 codes related to respiratory illness were identified for 1 October to 1 May 2017–2020. Results: We identified 25,747 patients admitted with respiratory illness during the study. We found no significant difference in the rate of monthly admissions with respiratory illness between seasons (p = 0.14). We saw a significant increase in the number of influenza tests ordered in 2019/2020 (p < 0.01). Conclusions: The rate of hospitalizations with respiratory illness did not significantly increase during the 2019/2020 season; however, influenza testing increased without a statistically significant difference in positivity rate. The increase in ordered influenza tests indicates an increased clinical suspicion, which may suggest a rise in pre-hospital viral illness associated with COVID-19.