It’s a phenomenon doctors and officials have known about for months, but haven’t been all that forthcoming about.
It’s what’s known as incidental hospitalizations — people who are included in the Ontario government’s daily count of people in hospital with COVID-19, but who aren’t actually in hospital for the virus.
Instead, they’ve gone to hospital for something completely different and just happen to test positive for the virus upon arrival but aren’t at all suffering from it.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown is now looking to draw attention to this under-reported issue, which is only getting bigger. “I’ve been told it’s about 50% of cases,” Brown said in a phone interview with the Sun , referring specifically to Brampton hospitals.
This means the actual number of people in hospital with COVID-19 throughout Ontario may be half of what the official numbers indicate.
“It speaks to the fact that the hospitalization numbers are better than we think they are,” Brown said, echoing comments he made at a televised press conference Tuesday morning.
“If you’re looking at case counts higher than we’ve ever seen before but hospitalizations that haven’t really budged, that’s a really powerful insight into what we’re dealing with.”
Brown said in Brampton, the hospital and ICU numbers are actually slightly declining. “That’s a very encouraging trend,” Brown said. “You turn on the news and see doom and gloom, and that’s not what I’m seeing.”
It’s believed the number of incidental hospitalizations is rising because of how many people in the province have an asymptomatic or mild case of the omicron variant.
The greater presence of omicron in society only increases the chances that someone turning up at hospital for something like a broken leg will just happen to test positive for COVID-19 and skew the hospital data.
This is something Dr. Neil Rau, an infectious diseases physician in the GTA, is seeing play out on the ground.
“Any of the people who were in hospital with a positive COVID test that I saw were admitted not because of omicron but as an incidental finding,” Rau said of his past few weeks of hospital shifts.
“We have a problem in this province of counting cases that test positive but aren’t due to the disease.”
Ontario’s chief medical officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, recently explained during a press conference that the government was still trying to figure out the actual number of incidental hospitalizations.
The Ministry of Health was unable to offer an update before publication, but a social media post made Wednesday by Travis Kann, Premier Doug Ford’s deputy chief of staff, said “we’ve asked hospitals to update daily reporting to include this important info. We expect to begin receiving it in the coming days.”