Epidemiologists are questioning the Quebec Health Ministry’s decision to move from daily to weekly reporting of COVID-19 cases, saying it could mislead the public about the continuing threat of the virus.
“I really am concerned that the public health message might get a little bit lost, or a little bit faded, if people are not seeing the numbers every day,” says Dr. Robert Platt, a McGill University epidemiologist. “The message that it might send to the public is that we have everything under control, and we can relax.”
Ministry spokeswoman Marie-Claude Lacasse said in an e-mail statement on Thursday that the data-reporting decision was made “due to the evolving epidemiological situation, which is stabilizing.” The ministry will “adjust the data dissemination strategy as necessary,” she said.
At a press conference, Quebec Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda said the number of cases, including deaths and hospitalizations, were declining in the province and that most daily data also included numbers from previous days. He believes weekly updates will allow the province to publish more “stable” data.
Quebec is among those hit hardest by Canada’s COVID-19 crisis. As of Wednesday, 5,448 people had died of the virus, and there were still 25,845 active cases across the province. Over all, new case numbers are declining, but so are the number of tests completed by health officials. The ministry had planned to conduct 14,000 tests a day, but hasn’t met that target since May 27.
“They may not be correct in saying that the situation is stabilizing,” Dr. Platt says, since fewer completed tests means fewer cases can be detected.
In his daily press conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Quebec Premier François Legault to remain “transparent” with the public.
“In Quebec, there are still a significant number of cases every single day and a significant number of deaths every single day,” he said. “I certainly hope Premier Legault would continue to be transparent and open with Quebeckers and, indeed, all Canadians as he has been from the very beginning.”
The province announced the data-reporting change in a press release on Wednesday, which was a Quebec statutory holiday, the Fête Nationale.
Dr. Kate Zinszer, an epidemiologist at the University of Montreal, called the announcement “frustrating and disappointing.” She says daily data can act as an “early warning system” for the detection of outbreaks in specific regions. Weekly data restricts the scope of analysis and study that researchers are able to produce during the pandemic. She wants the province to be more transparent about their decision.
“What brought on this decision? Is it because of resources at summertime? Is it because they think that it’s not needed?,” she asks.
“You’d think that would be the type of announcement that you make on a Monday,” she says about the announcement’s timing, on a statutory holiday. “I don’t know if they were not trying to have it front and centre in the news.”
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