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Editorial - Health Unit Must Re-instate Local COVID Stats

Editorial - Health Unit Must Re-instate Local COVID Stats

Posted: 2022-01-16 15:28:21 By: thebay

Anyone looking to find statistics about COVID in Muskoka’s municipalities can avoid visit the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit’s webpage.

For some strange reason, the Health Unit is no longer reporting full data at the municipal level on their HealthSTATS page, which is ridiculous. And when Muskoka is included in the Simcoe numbers, this can make the situation look worse than it really is in Muskoka.  

When you go to the Health Unit webpage looking for information, you’ll see this message:

“In response to changes in processes for capturing information from confirmed COVID-19 cases and changes to the provincial testing strategy, there are several major changes to SMDHU’s COVID-19 HealthSTATS page. Case data will no longer be shared at the level of municipality, and the COVID-19 Case Explorer has been retired. Several other analyses are impacted, and several charts have been modified or removed.”

After spending two years-plus warning about the dangers about community outbreaks, telling people to stay diligent by following protocols, and conditioning citizens in Muskoka to be wary of rising COVID numbers in their towns or townships, they’re now saying it those individual statistics no longer matter.

But it does matter. It matters for those living with a fear of this virus, or at least a fear of contracting it by living life in a somewhat normal fashion. It matters if suddenly our hospitals and ICUs are at capacity. It matters if suddenly many people are dying from COVID in Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst or another nearby location.

The public must know what risks do or do not exist in their specific communities and in what manner the virus is spreading.

On the flip side, many people who are indeed fearful of this virus are still happy to go about their daily business as long as the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in their community remain low.

Well, if all they have to go by are the combined numbers of the entire Simcoe-Muskoka region, there are many who won’t open a window. You may laugh, but believe me, these individuals exist.

In fact, reporting on only the combined numbers from the entire health unit could show a much worse situation than truly exists when broken down by each municipality within the Simcoe-Muskoka region.

It could easily allow the health unit to engage in unnecessary and unsupported fear mongering, which doesn’t benefit anyone. We’re not saying they will, but it definitely opens the door to this possibility.

What’s worse is when you visit the home page for Simcoe-Muskoka Health Stats, this is the message you receive:

“Why are local health statistics important? What does our community look like? What are the needs in our community? What is the health status of our community? These are some of the questions that can be answered by analyzing health data.”

So, analyzing health data to determine the health status of our community is important, but sharing that information with the public in those communities isn’t? It’s easy to become skeptical of any public entity that limits its disclosure of public information.

It’s just another decision that doesn’t have any common sense behind it. Why stop sharing the COVID stats for specific cities, towns and townships? Afterall, they’ve done it for 2 years now, and just because case data may not be reliable, certainly hospitalization rates and deaths are.

I’m fairly certain the location specific numbers exist in the Health Unit’s internal files, and we could request them through the Freedom of Information Act, but that doesn’t help “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” on a Monday morning.

What’s interesting is you can find more specific information about ongoing outbreaks if you know where to look. For those that don’t know, here’s a quick link: SDMHU Outbreaks.

You can also find vaccination rates by municipality, and all kinds of age group breakdowns, socio-economic breakdowns, etcetera. Just head to COVID-19 stats and a variety of options exist. 

But, despite looking and clicking various links, we couldn’t find a daily breakdown of COVID cases or more importantly - hospitalizations by municipality. Even if it is there, hiding in an inconspicuous location, the fact remains these numbers should be front and centre for all to find.

Afterall, the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit is a publicly funded organization which is supposed to be putting public health first – emphasis on the public part – therefore, full and daily disclosure of Muskoka’s COVID by municipality is a must to fulfill the organization’s duty.

Transparency in the face of a public health emergency is a must. There is no excuse why the full picture isn’t readily available for all our citizens to see.