Ontario’s top doctor says the province will soon change the way COVID-19-related deaths are reported in a bid to identify possible incidental cases.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, made the remarks during his weekly COVID-19 briefing Thursday.

Moore was asked by a reporter what’s behind the recent rise in COVID-19-related deaths in Ontario, whether it’s Delta or Omicron, and if there are any trends with regards to the vaccination status or age group of individuals who are passing away.

“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,” Moore 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.”

Moore also noted that the province recently began differentiating between those who were admitted to hospital for COVID-19-related illness and incidental admissions.

The data has shown that roughly 45 per cent of COVID-related admissions to hospital are “incidental” — meaning they were admitted to the hospital for a reason other than the virus but tested positive for COVID during screening. Roughly 20 per cent of COVID-related intensive care admissions fall under the same category, Moore said.

When the hospitalization data was first released, Health Minister Christine Elliott noted it “doesn’t change the serious situation in Ontario’s hospitals” but provides additional context.

“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,” Moore 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.”

It’s not clear exactly how a death would be deemed incidental, or directly caused by COVID-19.

The government previously announced intentions to look at changing its reporting of COVID-19 deaths.

On Jan. 7, Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, sent a statement to reporters.

“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.

“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.”

On Thursday, Ontario reported 35 more COVID-related deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 10,480.

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