Ontario is planning to change the way it reports COVID-19-related deaths in order to identify possible “incidental” cases so that a more accurate mortality rate from the virus can be ascertained.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore said approximately 45 percent of COVID-related hospital admissions are incidental, meaning that these patients were admitted for other reasons but tested positive for the virus when screened. The same goes for 20 percent of patients in intensive care.
“We know roughly 45 percent of admissions to hospital are incidental to being diagnosed with COVID-19. In the intensive care unit, roughly 20 percent are incidentally testing positive. It may be that some of these deaths are incidentally correlated to COVID-19,” Moore said at a press conference on Jan. 13.
Moore said distinguishing between patients who are admitted to hospital for COVID-19 versus those admitted for other reasons but tested positive will help identify the incidental cases.
“It may be that some of these deaths are incidentally correlated to COVID-19, so we’re trying to get the public better data and a better analysis to understand the true mortality associated with both Omicron and Delta as we go forward,” he said.
“We just recently met with the chief coroner’s office. We’ll be sending memos out to hospital partners to ensure that death is documented appropriately if it’s associated with or caused by COVID-19, to further clarify for the public the cause of death.”
Moore was asked by a reporter what caused the recent rise in COVID-19 related deaths in the province, whether the deaths are due to Delta or Omicron, and if there are particular trends suggesting that the deaths are linked to a person’s vaccination status or age group.
“We’re trying to do the same analysis and get you the answers for the questions you just posed. Many will be from the previous Delta wave that had severe virulence and higher death rates than Omicron,” he said.
“But what we’re also seeing is, because Omicron is affecting so many people at once because of its high transmissibility, we will have a higher number of deaths associated with it, but a very small proportion of overall total cases.”
On Jan. 7, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office said it was evaluating whether the way COVID-19 deaths are reported needed to be updated in light of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Some U.S. states have also begun differentiating between those who were admitted to hospital for COVID-19 and admissions for other reasons.
The office of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Jan. 3 that the state would be separating out hospitalizations for COVID-19 versus those with the disease.
On Jan. 7, Hochul’s office said nearly half of the patients currently in New York hospitals with COVID-19 were admitted for reasons other than the disease.
Forty-three percent of the 11,548 hospitalized patients didn’t have COVID-19 listed as one of the reasons for admission.
“Think of all the other reasons people end up at a hospital—it’s an overdose, it’s a car accident, a heart attack,” Hochul said at a press conference, adding that it’s important to know the percentage of patients in each category as the number of hospitalizations rise.
“I just want to always be honest with New Yorkers about how bad this is,” she said. “Yes, the sheer numbers of people infected are high, but I want to see whether or not the hospitalizations correlate with that. And I’m anticipating to see that at least a certain percentage overall are not related to being treated for COVID.”
Officials in New Jersey said on Jan. 10 that the majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state were actually admitted for reasons other than the virus.
Of the 6,075 people with COVID-19 who were hospitalized, just 2,963 were admitted for the disease, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said during a briefing.
“We have a fair number of what I’ve started to call COVID incidental, or incidental COVID, meaning you went in because you broke your leg, but everyone’s getting tested and it turns out you’ve got COVID. You didn’t even know it,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.
Previously during the pandemic, Canadian provinces and U.S. states largely neglected to distinguish COVID-19 hospitalizations from incidental COVID-19.
However, after large numbers of people began testing positive after the emergence of the Omicron variant, including those who have been vaccinated—some of whom have required hospital care—a growing number of officials in the United States have started making clear that not all COVID-19 hospitalizations are the same.
Massachusetts is among the other states planning to soon make such data public.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Jan. 9 that some hospitals her agency has spoken to have up to four in 10 COVID-19 patients who are being admitted for other reasons.