Half of UNC COVID patients in the hospital with COVID, not because of it


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Any patient getting admitted into UNC Health Medical Center, even for non-COVID reasons, gets a COVID-19 test. More of those patients are testing positive.

“There’s so much more COVID-19 and more of the omicron in our communities,” said infectious disease expert with UNC Health, Dr. David Wohl.

Wohl said we’re likely going to see more of these situations. They’re being referred to as incidental COVID cases. They are people who are in the hospital with COVID-19 rather than because of COVID-19.

“That’s not to say that it makes it easier because those folks also have to be handled in a way where they don’t infect other patients and staff,” said Wohl.

At Duke, Dr. Adia Ross said coming in with incidental COVID-19 is almost an equal burden.

“Among nursing care, and the doctors, we still have to take extra time to put in all the protective equipment and do all those other things. And then we’ve got to monitor you and make sure that you don’t get sicker,” said Ross.

Wohl said there’s no good system in place to differentiate the two.

It’s estimated incidental COVID-19 patients make up 50 percent of hospitalizations at UNC, a third at Duke Health and 40 percent at WakeMed.

“The way that we’ve approached our metrics and looking at the statistics has to shift. We can’t use the same way that we’ve been measuring things like we did way back in the beginning of this pandemic,” Wohl said.

Wohl said changing this could give a better perspective of who is getting the sickest.

“That helps us understand how much protection we have to provide to those people in society by masking, by distancing. By doing all the things we’ve been talking about for months. Everything we’re doing is to protect the vulnerable,” he said.

While cynics or conspiracy theorists may believe marking someone as a COVID-19 case has some financial benefit to hospitals, Wohl said, there’s nothing advantageous to them. He said it distracts from the gravity of the issue at hand.

“Hospitals are leaking money. They’re hemorrhaging funds because of all the things they’ve had to pay for,” Wohl said. “I think it really distracts us from what we have to do. Reasonable people should understand reasonable arguments. Nobody wants this. We’re not counting, there’s no bass conspiracy. I’m not part of some COVID Mafia.”

Massachusetts and New York are already differentiating between COVID cases and incidental COVID cases in their reporting.

North Carolina is not doing this. In an emailed response, the state said, “NCDHHS is working with hospital partners on options to better understand reasons for hospitalization among those with COVID.”

Wohl said he’s not overly concerned about people who are incidental COVID cases, he’s more concerned about the vulnerable like people too young to get vaccinated, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

“It concerns me when people are sick, they’re hungry for air and that is something we are seeing. And those who don’t believe it, come on down to UNC and we’ll give you a tour, maybe through the hospital. You can see for yourself. These are not crisis actors. These are people who are really sick,” said Wohl.

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