Ottawa Public Health has taken to social media this week to calm some peoples’ concerns about the fact that, after almost four years, it is discontinuing its weekly COVID-19 dashboard, which contains statistics about deaths, hospitalizations, outbreaks from COVID-19 and more online.
OPH says it will stop updating the standalone COVID-19 dashboard in the coming weeks, in part because of the cost as COVID-19 funding ends and, in part, because it is redundant. The information has already been moved to a new dashboard that tracks a broader range of respiratory illness information.
As of this week, the COVID-19 dashboard continued to be updated, reporting four new COVID-19 deaths in the previous week, 80 confirmed COVID-19 patients in local hospitals and 26 ongoing outbreaks in retirement homes, long-term care, hospitals and other institutions. The rate of COVID-19 in the community has dropped from a peak earlier in January, but is still considered severe.
OPH reassured members of the public, some of whom were concerned they would no longer have access to information about COVID-19, that the information will continue to be available. The broader respiratory dashboard includes information about COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
That dashboard “is designed to show you the info in a way that helps you assess your risks instead of just capturing raw data. It gives you this season’s trends and helps you see what’s going on in the community,” OPH said on X, the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter.
In a statement, OPH said its goal was to create an “accurate and easy-to-use one-stop shop for data on respiratory diseases in Ottawa.” Among other things, the dashboard displays current data for COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses and comparisons to previous seasons. The dashboard rates wastewater levels of COVID-19 and hospitalization levels as very high, high, medium or low.
OPH launched the original COVID-19 dashboard in the summer of 2020 and noted there was an ongoing cost to continuing it.
“As we demobilize from the COVID-19 response, funding has decreased and has been re-allocated to other areas within Ottawa Public Health,” OPH said in a statement. The numbers of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, outbreaks and deaths will continue to be reported weekly on the respiratory dashboard.
Some observers remain concerned that, as targeted COVID-19 funding ends across the province, there will be less information available to help people understand trends and ongoing risks from COVID-19, which continues to circulate across Ontario at high levels.
Jeff Gilchrist, a biomedical researcher and data scientist who tracks information on COVID-19, says it is already harder to keep track of what is going on to understand the impact of COVID-19 four years into the pandemic. Hospitalization data across Ontario, one of the few remaining ways to measure the impact of COVID-19, is getting harder to find and use, he said.
“While hospitalizations seem to be lower now than earlier in the pandemic, what Ottawa Public Health should really be trying to figure out a way to track and report is the impact of COVID and long-term consequences, since there will be many more people with Long COVID than people who are hospitalized or died,” Gilchrist said. “That would really be eye-opening and help drive public health policy.”
The respiratory infections and enteric outbreaks dashboard can be found at: ottawapublichealth.ca/en/reports-research-and-statistics/flu-report.aspx#Enteric-Outbreaks
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