BOSTON (WPRI) — Massachusetts has a new way of how they are reporting COVID-19 hospitalizations to differentiate between what they are calling “primary” and “incidental” cases.

The state is now reporting the difference between patients who were admitted for the virus, or who came in for other illnesses and ended up testing positive.

Dr. Shira Doron, the hospital epidemiologist for Tufts Medical Center, helped develop the metrics for the state’s new reporting system.

She said the change in reporting is important because when looking at public health, it can help forecast hospital bed capacity, and can also determine how severe the omicron variant is and the efficacy of the vaccine.

The Department of Public Health noted that patients are being reported as being hospitalized due to COVID if they received dexamethasone treatment, which is a type of steroid medication. Administration of the treatment is considered an indicator of severe COVID.

As of the first day of differentiating between hospitalizations on Thursday, the state reported 52.2% of patients were there because of the severity of the virus, while 47.8% were there for other illnesses and tested positive.

Doron points to the fact that even when the surge in COVID hospitalizations declines, we could still see a large percentage of “incidental” hospitalizations.

“If 50% of the hospitalizations are not due to COVID, we have to know that we’re not getting that capacity back when covid cases go down,” Doran said. “They could get sicker, they require a private room which is hard to come by when we’re completely busting at the seams.”

The state has been updating COVID cases each weekday to give an idea of the trends of the current surge and spread.

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