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Future Health Unit COVID-19 data reporting to reflect 'most meaningful picture' of pandemic

'There is a real shift away from the [case] numbers. The numbers are so large, it has spread so quickly that there is no way that we can have accurate numbers.'
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The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit says it will shift its COVID-19 data reporting model.

With an onslaught of Omicron variant cases and the re-prioritization of COVID-19 testing policies in Ontario, the Medical Officer of Health for the Nipissing Parry Sound District Health Unit recognizes it is time for local pandemic reporting to transition to an updated model.

Asked whether the Health Unit would focus its future reporting on the number of local hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and individuals on ventilators instead of the traditional case counts public health has acknowledged are inaccurate, Dr. Jim Chirico agrees it is an important step and one public health is addressing.

"There is a real shift away from the [case] numbers," Chirico admits. "The numbers are so large, it has spread so quickly that there is no way that we can have accurate numbers. It's not going to change what we do but those indices [hospitalizations, ICU admissions, number of patients ventilated] are the most important thing now."

Dr. Carol Zimbalatti concurs, saying the Health Unit is looking to make such a shift in its reporting to align with provincial public health.

"We are in conversations with the province as to what metrics are most useful, both for us and for the public to be aware of," advises Zimbalatti, a public health physician. "We will be looking at our dashboard and what we are reporting so it provides the most meaningful picture of what is happening with the pandemic locally, in real-time."

During Thursday's press conference, health officials focused their message on what to do next if you have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 as a means to avoid overwhelming the health care system.

See related: 180 health care workers are currently off sick as NBRHC temporarily pauses all non-urgent procedures and surgeries

As of Thursday morning, there are no people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the district, according to the Health Unit. Ontario Health reports 2,279 hospitalizations, an increase of 198 over the last day. There are 319 in ICU due to COVID-19 in the province, up 31 over the previous daily reporting period and 164 individuals on ventilators, up 27 from the day before. There are 135 active long-term care outbreaks. For Jan. 5, Ontario Health reports 20 deaths.

The Health Unit has updated its testing information at www.myhealthunit.ca/COVID-19Testing, and added www.myhealthunit.ca/COVIDGuide with next steps for anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms, is exposed to a confirmed or presumed case, or tests positive. Other dashboard reporting will be updated to reflect this new interim guidance.

See related: Ontario changing who can access publicly funded COVID testing

And: Ontario government to give update on deployment of rapid tests

Under the new Ministry guidance, individuals who are eligible for COVID-19 PCR testing in our region will continue to have access to the Assessment Centres for testing. Positive results from these PCR tests will be received and tracked by the Health Unit and updated on the dashboard daily. Positive rapid antigen test results do not need to be reported to the Health Unit.

All test-confirmed COVID-19 cases (i.e. people who test positive on PCR, rapid molecular, or rapid antigen tests) should notify high-risk contacts of their exposure.

High-risk contacts include:

  • Anyone with whom the COVID-19 positive person came into close contact within the 48 hours prior to symptom onset if symptomatic, or 48 hours prior to the test date if asymptomatic, and until the positive person started self-isolating.
  • Close contact means you were in close proximity (less than 2 meters) to them for at least 15 minutes, or for multiple short periods of time, without appropriate measures such as masking and use of personal protective equipment.
  • Other high-risk contacts as advised by public health.

The Health Unit or the Provincial Workforce is still completing case and contact management for cases and contacts that live, work, attend, volunteer or are admitted to any highest-risk settings.

Highest-risk settings include:

  • Hospitals and healthcare settings, including complex continuing care facilities and acute care facilities
  • Congregate living settings (e.g., long-term care homes, retirement homes, First Nation elder care lodges, group homes, shelters, hospices, temporary foreign worker settings, and correctional institutions)
  • First Nations, Inuit, Métis communities