For the first time in the pandemic, the Ontario government has started distinguishing between patients admitted to hospital due to COVID-19 and incidental admissions, which the head of the province’s science advisory table says is a good idea.

“It makes sense,” Dr. Peter Juni told CTV News Toronto on Tuesday during his first interview on the subject.

“This is addressing the concerns of various people but also an epidemiological reality: if you have a really high frequency of infection and transmission in the community, some of that you will also see in the hospitals,” he said.

According to the data, as of Jan. 11, of the 3,220 patients currently in hospital, 54 per cent (1,738 patients) are in hospital for COVID-19 while 46 per cent (1,481 patients) tested positive after being admitted to hospital for a non-COVID-19-related illness.

In Ontario’s intensive care units (ICUs), there are 477 patients, 83 per cent of whom (395 patients) are there because of COVID-19 and 17 per cent (81 patients) tested positive for the virus after the fact.

“What is important to realize is that the percentage of people who are in hospital with COVID-19 and not for COVID-19 is roughly as expected from the international literature,” Juni said. “Meaning the more severe the disease, the more likely it is that you actually end up where you are because of COVID-19 and not just with COVID-19. That’s really important to understand.”

However, despite the fact that a large number of those hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ontario are incidental, Juni said the province’s health-care system feels the strain regardless of that fact.

“Once you’re infectious, the entire procedure is actually changed and it’s burdening the health-care system disproportionately. We can’t just say, ‘OK, the main reason for admissions wasn’t COVID-19, therefore it’s irrelevant.’ This is absolutely an untrue statement,” he said.

During a news conference Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that there are currently 600 ICU beds available across Ontario and that 500 additional beds are available, if required.

She also said that the median stay in intensive care for a COVID-19 patient is currently seven days, compared to 20 days during the peak of the Delta wave.