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Ontario will soon identify incidental COVID hospitalizations: spokesperson

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The Ontario government will soon update the way it reports COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said Friday that the province will soon distinguish between those who are admitted directly because of COVID and incidental hospitalizations.

“Currently, Ontario’s hospitalizations include patients who were admitted for COVID-19, as well as individuals who were admitted for other reasons and are now testing positive for COVID-19,” Hilkene said in an email to Global News.

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She said that on Dec. 29, the province asked hospitals to update their daily reporting to distinguish between the two.

Hilkene said data collection on this information began last week and added that public reporting will begin “in the near future.”

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In another email sent by Hilkene Friday morning, she said the province is also evaluating whether it needs to update the way deaths are reported.

“Due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, we are evaluating whether there is a need to update reporting to distinguish between causal and incidental deaths related to COVID-19, similar to the work that is underway on hospital reporting,” she said.

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“For example, we have heard anecdotal evidence of a small number of individuals receiving palliative care in congregate care settings who regrettably passed with COVID but not necessarily because of the virus.

“While any change in reporting will not change the fact that these individuals tragically lost their lives, it is important to be transparent and provide the public with as much context as we can.”

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The message came as Ontario reported 43 COVID-19-related deaths Friday, 42 of which occurred over the span of 10 days.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore was asked about incidental COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province in a press conference on Dec. 30.

He said preliminary conversations with Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington indicated that around 50 per cent of their admissions were incidental.

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“So someone has a broken leg, if they’re admitted they all get screening testing and they’re positive,” Moore said.

“We don’t want those numbers contributing to our understanding of the burden of hospitalizations in Ontario and so we’ve asked all of our hospital partners to be more vigorous in their reporting so that we can provide a reliable source of data to decision-makers and to Ontarians on the impact of COVID on our hospital sector.”

Moore said “very preliminary” conversations have revealed that when the virus is more prevalent in the community, there may be a larger chance of incidental cases.

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When it comes to COVID-19 intensive care admissions, Moore said he has “more confidence” in that number as hospitals are only supposed to report those with COVID-related critical illness. However, ICU reporting is also under review.

“We’ve never had a virus become so prevalent in the community that people would be coming in incidentally,” Moore noted.

Meanwhile, on Friday Ontario reported the most number of patients in hospital with COVID since the start of the pandemic. There were 2,472 people hospitalized with the virus, which is up by 193 from the previous day.

There were 338 patients in intensive care, which is up by 19.

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