Editorial – Data is important

The Ontario government lifted most of its remaining face mask mandates leaving the option to require the use of face masks to individual facilities and companies. Mandatory face mask use is only required by the province at long-term care homes and retirement homes. Buried within this announcement made June 8 is another quiet announcement, the change for COVID-19 data reported by the province. Specifically the change in frequency for how often data is reported – from daily to weekly. Ontario lifted most of its mask mandates while the daily case counts were recorded at 600-800 new COVID-19 infections per day. Those levels prompted lock downs earlier in the pandemic: now it is considered a “normal” level of infection.

This is the latest erosion to the COVID-19 data reporting by the province. The onset of the Omicron variant wave in late 2021 overwhelmed testing to the point that mass testing was discontinued, not to be restored once the wave passed. The Omicron BA-2 sub-variant wave has since passed and cases are declining yet again.

Locally, the lack of accurate data reporting means that only half of South Dundas is even counted properly by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit. The health unit uses provincial data sorted by postal code FSA (first three characters), which excludes Iroquois, Brinston, and other western areas from local numbers. The local picture remains inaccurate.

Government and Public Health officials from Premier Doug Ford to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore say individuals should use their own judgement by assessing the risk of COVID infection going to events and activities. How can an individual assess for risk, when the data provided is now up to one week old?

It should be noted that the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table recommended that mandatory masking remain in hospitals and medical settings, and that recommendation was ignored by Public Health Ontario and the provincial government. Most hospitals did not ignore this recommendation, and put organizational face mask wearing requirements in place hours after the announcement was made.

There is a larger issue regarding incomplete and out-of-date data, besides assessing personal responsibility. It may almost be summer, but the fall return to more indoor activities is not that long off. COVID-19 cases become more prevalent during colder months. COVID-19 is a live virus that mutates. Both are established facts. How can public health be on look out for the next wave, prepare ahead of time to treat people infected, keep the economy running, and keep businesses and schools open, with an incomplete set of data?

Data is important to properly inform people, of what risk is out there now and in the future. Not keeping accurate and detailed data on COVID-19 infections in Ontario is irresponsible and reckless. It sets up the province for more shut downs, more closures, more infections, and sadly, more deaths when, not if, another “variant of concern” arrives.

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