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COVID: Public asked to manage risk with less data

MONTREAL – At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, retired teacher Lois Armstrong said local health officials where she lives in Kingston, Ont., provided daily updates on the outbreaks, cases and deaths in the community.

Now, Armstrong, 68, said the public is being asked to have a greater role in managing their risks but information from health authorities is less available than before. Meanwhile, data like the location of outbreaks is no longer made public, she added.

“I think it’s very difficult for the average person to assess their own risk,” Armstrong said Monday in an interview. “Kingston is one of Ontario’s hot spots, but they still only post three times a week, and you can’t get tested unless you’re really at high risk or really sick. So there’s no point. how to know.”

Health experts agree with Armstrong. Provincial governments are asking Canadians to estimate their own level of risk but the same governments are reducing the amount of data available to citizens, they said.

“There’s no doubt that people are given less data,” said Tara Moriarty, a professor at the University of Toronto in the department of dentistry who studies infectious diseases. “It’s especially important because people have been held accountable for how they’ve handled the pandemic and the decisions they’ve made.”

Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador are the only provinces reporting daily COVID-19 data, she said in an interview Monday, adding that Canada does COVID-19 testing per capita less than in other rich countries.

In the week ending April 9, an average of 1.46 COVID-19 tests per 1,000 people were performed each day in Canada, according to Our World In Data, a global data website affiliated with the University. Oxford. In Austria, by contrast, 40.5 tests were carried out per 1,000 people. In Greece, Italy, United Kingdom, France and South Korea, the number of daily tests performed per capita is three times higher than in Canada. The website counts both PCR test results and publicly available antigens.

Moriarty said that although wastewater testing has become a way to track the progress of the pandemic, it has only been carried out in major cities in a few provinces.

It’s not just a data issue, she says, but also a communication issue. Government leaders need to do a better job of communicating what the current situation is and who might be most at risk, she explained.

“You need to give people information so they can better assess risk and so they can modify their behavior accordingly,” she said. “If you withhold that information, or, by omission, simply fail to provide it, you are limiting the ability of people to act on that information.”

Jean-Paul Soucy, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto who studies infectious disease epidemiology, said some provinces, like Nova Scotia, have stopped reporting region-specific data, which makes people people find it difficult to manage their risks.

“COVID is not just one big outbreak in one country, but 1,000 small local epidemics,” he said in an interview on Monday. “So the more local your information is, the more relevant your decision-making will be. Health care is local. If you need an ICU bed and a free bed in Kenora, that won’t be too helpful if you’re in Toronto.”

Soucy said he takes more precautions as the COVID-19 situation worsens and engages in riskier activities as the situation improves.

“A key component of public health is building trust,” he said. “And I think transparency builds trust.”

This Canadian Press report was first published on April 12, 2022.

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