Gardner warns COVID numbers are unreliable, priority being to support essential services

“I’m not so much focused on data, but on insights…the ways to know if we’re doing well,” says Simcoe-Muskoka Medical Officer of Health

In the Simcoe-Muskoka region, the numbers lie…but it’s a lie of omission.

Due to case increases and new priority eligibility for testing focused on vulnerable populations, Simcoe Muskoka District Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner is inclined not to believe declining COVID case count charts for the region.

In previous waves, a 15% reduction in lab-confirmed cases week-over-week could prompt Gardner to say the region is starting to “flatten” its COVID levels. This time, however, he said it was not an indication of the bigger picture.

“I don’t think we can be at all confident that we’re seeing a reduction in transmission in the community right now,” Gardner said.

Provincial lab test results produced positive results for 3,545 Simcoe-Muskoka residents during the week of Dec. 26, which is five times higher than the peak of the third wave.

“The completeness of the data we have for you is no longer what it used to be, and this is due to the difficulty we have had in tracking case and contact management for several weeks… and also to a change in provincial direction on testing,” Gardner said.

With few exceptions, only those who work or live in congregate care facilities can get a publicly funded and reported PCR test, as well as anyone hospitalized with symptoms. A large majority of the population, even if symptomatic, must self-isolate without testing or with only a rapid test result, and these results are not made public.

“So with these changes we could see a reduction in our case count that doesn’t really reflect the pattern of transmission in the community, and I think we have to be careful in interpreting the data we have” , Gardner said. .

The health unit stopped reporting geographic data for its new confirmed cases as of Wednesday. Gardner said the municipal breakdown no longer provides an accurate picture of COVID in the region.

“I think we should definitely only provide data if we think it’s reliable in the first place, so that’s why we’re going to discontinue it,” Gardner said.

In addition to informing residents of the spread of COVID in their area, COVID rates have generally been used as a metric to inform government decisions on closures, capacity limits, and in-person activities.

Without reliable data on the number of people infected in the region and in the province, Gardner said he and other medical officers of health were turning their attention to other factors.

“My focus right now is to make sure we’re able to function,” he said. “What concerns me right now is the continuation of essential societal functions like health care, schools, key municipal services (snow removal and drinking water), waste management and first responders”, such as the police, firefighters and paramedics.

The doctor meets weekly with municipal CAOs to get a first-hand account of how municipalities are impacted by COVID-related illnesses among staff and self-isolation requirements.

Gardner said he told them to contact them if they needed assistance, including the temporary relaxation of requirements to keep critical functions running.

“I don’t focus so much on data, but on insights to have different ways of knowing if we are functioning well right now,” he said.

Although the doctor is part of discussions at the provincial level about what kind of measures or indicators to use during the current wave of COVID to decide what and when things can open up next, he said he had no no clear answer on how or when the province should reopen. activities currently closed.

Michelle J. Kelley