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Categorization of some COVID cases as incidental is irresponsible: doctor

Last Updated Feb 9, 2022 at 8:34 pm MDT

Modern medical beds for injured in hospital. Resuscitation chamber. Coronavirus, virus concept. COVID-19 identification. Pandemic.

Incidental COVID cases. It’s a new category the Alberta government is using to paint the COVID-19 picture in the province, and one doctor says it is minimizing the burden Omicron is having on our healthcare system.

“About 40 per cent of patients in the hospitals who have tested positive for COVID are not actually being treated for COVID. They are what we call incidental cases,” Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday.

In medicine, the term incidental is used to talk about something doctors discover that they weren’t looking for and may not relate to the issue.

One doctor CityNews spoke with says COVID is different.

“Often if people are sick enough to be admitted into hospital— it’s likely that diagnosis of COVID would impact their care and it’s not incidental,” said Dr. Stephanie Cooper, OB/GYN, Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist at Alberta Health Services.

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Contrary to popular belief, Cooper says not everyone who comes into a hospital is tested for COVID-19.

“If they don’t have symptoms, they are not tested. So, therefore, the ability to find an incidental case – you have to test for it for a reason. You’re not just going to find it.”

CityNews reached out to the province for clarification on what an incidental case is defined as. In response, they said:

“It means neither a primary nor a contributing cause of admission, as in, the person was admitted for something else. That’s a clinical judgment made by the admitting doctor in each case, for COVID, same as anything else.

“COVID symptoms could be minor at the time of admission and clearly irrelevant to the admission. Or there could be no symptoms on admission at all.”

Meanwhile, Cooper says while this new category of cases may help paint a less dire COVID-19 picture, these cases still place a massive burden on the healthcare system and the patient’s well being.

“It’s trying to find a patient bed on a ward where they can have a private room, and then trying to find the staff to care for those patients, and in some cases, the staff caring for those COVID patients – it’s not their area of expertise,” said Cooper.