Information on COVID-19 Cases: Ontario Government is Falling Behind

The Ontario government’s Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC) has been posting twice daily (at 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.) updates on the status of COVID-19 cases in the province. The updates have included (1) a statistical summary of province-wide COVID-19 testing to date and (2) some basic information about new confirmed positive cases. The government provides no explanation of how it decided what information to share with the public in its daily updates, nor how these data were to be collected and kept current.

Information about new confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 is the only source of information that the Ontario government shares that allows us to appreciate at least in some general sense who’s testing positive (their age range and gender), where they reside (within which Public Health Unit catchment), how they came to be exposed to the virus (community transmission, travel, or close contact with a traveller) and their status (e.g. self-isolating, hospitalized, recovered, deceased).

It’s understandable that the MOHLTC might not know (or even be able to surmise) initially how a specific individual contracted the disease. Thus, it’s reasonable for the MOHLTC to advise that “Case information below may be updated as Public Health Units complete their investigations.”

We want to raise the following concerns about the MOHLTC’s updates on new confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, however:

  1. The MOHLTC’s most recent update provides no information about new confirmed positive cases; instead, the MOHTLC notes that “Information for all cases today is pending.”
  2. The MOHLTC has updated no information about any confirmed positive case of COVID-19 to date.
  3. The MOHLTC has shared incomplete information about over 60% of confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 to date.

The lack of information about confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 to date that is being shared by the MOHLTC goes far beyond a reasonable uncertainty about how a specific individual contracted the disease. In fact, Table 1 disregards this variable altogether – and identifies the percentage of confirmed positive cases for which the MOHLTC fails to share basic demographic information (age and gender), basic geographic information (public health unit catchment), and basic information about individuals’ clinical/case management status.

Cases Missing Information
1. Age range38144.4%
2. Gender38344.6%
3. Public Health Unit28433.1%
4. Status41848.6%
Missing information about at least one variable52060.6%
Missing information about all variables27532.1%

NOTE: Table 1 is based on Mahmoud Azimaee’s aggregated dataset – recommended by Dr. Gillian Hawker, Chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and supported by my inspection of a random sample of 350 captures of the MOHLTC’s website. The underlying data are available for download as a Tab Separated Variable (TSV) file and Excel spreadsheet.

In publishing my observations and concerns about the MOHLTC’s daily updates on confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, I’m in no way suggesting that they’re indicative of the government’s planning and boots-on-the-ground response in this remarkable pandemic. On the contrary, everything I’ve read and heard about our situation in Ontario suggests that the government should take pride in its efforts as well as, of course, in the tremendous efforts of front-line health care providers.

My only suggestion is that the Ontario government should keep us better informed of confirmed positive cases COVID-19 in the province.