Ontario Health Coalition demanding more transparency from province on COVID-19 outbreaks

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The Ontario Health Coalition, which has been tracking COVID-19 outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic, is calling for the provincial government to be more transparent about outbreaks of the virus and improve public access to information.

The Coalition says it released two new reports in which it highlighted important information that is either no longer reported by Public Health and the Ontario government or has not been reported at all.

“Key information that was previously reported regarding the spread of COVID-19 in health care settings has been discontinued without explanation,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

“In non-health care industries, no information is being reported to identify the names of businesses and services with outbreaks. This is unacceptable.”

In light of schools reopening for classes, the Coalition is calling for the government to make clear that the definition of an outbreak is one person in a workplace, industry, or service, and one person in a school.

“This matters, because when an outbreak is declared, outbreak protocols can be effected,” the Coalition said. “In long-term care, once the definition of outbreak was clarified to mean one person (staff or resident) and outbreak protocols were put in place it helped to begin to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.”

In an example of an alleged lack of transparency from the province, the Coalition says 184 staff who worked at two bakeries owned by the same company in Toronto contracted COVID-19 and one staff person died in May.

The outbreak was lifted June 24, and the information was not revealed publicly until mid-August, according to the Coalition.

“The Health Coalition found a cumulative total of 1,685 confirmed cases among agricultural workers, and the numbers continue to rise, by far the highest number in any industry outside of health care, but the names of farms with outbreaks are not disclosed. There are 87 active outbreaks in what we consider to be workplaces, including retail stores and warehouses, farms, public services and other industries that are not health care settings. We were able to find only a portion of these.”

“People need to know, for instance, when a workplace or public setting has had COVID-19 cases to help contain the spread,” they added.

The Coalition is calling for clear and transparent disclosure of the names of schools, workplaces, services, and industries with outbreaks, and reporting on the number of cases in each outbreak. It’s also calling for the province to resume reporting details regarding outbreaks in health care settings as it did before June, saying the information is vital for researchers, advocates and the public to be able to see trends over time.

“This is vital public information. Not only does it make the public aware of the transmission of COVID-19, helping to remind people to continue to use the infection control measures recommended by Public Health, but also it enables patrons and workers alike to take extra care when there are outbreaks which will help to contain the spread of the virus,” said Mehra.

The Ontario Health Coalition’s recent reports and key findings can be seen here.

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