NUMBERS UPDATED THURSDAY, APRIL 16: Lord Mayor Betty Disero is hoping Niagara Region Public Health will release the number of COVID-19 cases in Niagara-
She has been working with the office of regional chair Jim Bradley to get those figures, and was told twice last week the information would be made available.
But by Tuesday, she had heard nothing, and she’s frustrated.
Niagara Region Public Health is, however, releasing names of regional facilities that have an outbreak, and late Tuesday afternoon it reported Niagara Long Term Care, formerly Chartell, on Wellington Street, has a respiratory outbreak. It had not identified at that time whether or not it was COVID-19, or how many staff or residents were affected.
Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the acting medical officer of health for Niagara Region, says with input from his team, he has made the decision not to release the number of cases, or deaths, by municipality — at least not yet.
The Region’s website as of Thursday was reporting 320 cases in Niagara. The number of cases of COVID-19 is updated daily. The number of deaths was updated to 26 at noon Thursday. Almost 11 per cent of the cases are health care workers, and
30 per cent were in long-term care homes. With other homes in the area declaring outbreaks, that number could be expected to change.
Hirji cites the right to privacy for those infected with the virus, and says with such low numbers in each municipality, they could be identified and stigmatized. He says one of the earliest affected individuals in Niagara was named in the press, with unfortunate consequences, and he doesn’t want a repeat of that.
He’s trying to reach a balance between giving members of the public the information they need to protect themselves, while not creating a situation where privacy could be a concern, or the numbers skewed, or “misrepresented” in communities.
For example, he says, if he released the number of cases in NOTL, and the next day there was an outbreak in one of the long-term care homes, those numbers could appear to double in a short time, and the attention of provincial and federal media could “damage the reputation” of the town.
“The outside media could come to unjustified conclusions. We don’t want a misrepresentation of the results,” says Hirji.
There were six long-term care homes in the region with cases of COVID-19 in Tuesday’s report, and six others, including the one in NOTL, with unknown respiratory outbreaks.
If a long-term care home in NOTL is identified with an outbreak of COVID-19, Lord Mayor Betty Disero says the Fire Chief would be notified, as would families of residents, before the information would be reported on the regional website.
As far as releasing numbers of cases or deaths by municipaltiy, Hirji says, which at this point would be low when broken down by 12, those numbers “won’t inform the risk a great deal.”
Most decisions regarding the handling of COVID-19 are made by the provincial and federal governments, not individual municipalities, he says.
If the number of cases increases significantly, he would consider changing his position, but he didn’t think it would get there in the next week or so.
The lack of information regarding individual municipalities from the Region “is disappointing,” says Disero.
Some of the numbers that are released are a week old, she added.
It would also be helpful to know if there were a number of cases in town were caused by community spread, in order to step up precautions to reduce that number, or if those numbers are decreasing, to know the Town’s efforts are working.
“There are people who are dying, and the numbers of cases are increasing,” says, with 263 reported cases Tuesday jumping to to 320 Thursday. “That’s my biggest concern.”
Having up-to-date information about what is happening in the community might also help stress the need to stay home, she says.