Prairie Post (East Edition)

Province defends call to stop reporting COVID by municipali­ty

- By Kendall King

Alberta Health is no longer providing data on municipal COVID-19 case counts, a move some physicians warn could be detrimenta­l to doctors and the public as COVID hospitaliz­ations rise.

Previously, Alberta’s COVID-19 statistics web page included case breakdowns for each municipali­ty and county in the province. But beginning in October – and without an official announceme­nt from the province – those statistics were eliminated in favour of a total case count per AHS zone.

In a statement to the News, Alberta Health said the move was part of an overall process to align “COVID-19 reporting more closely with (that of) other respirator­y viruses, such as influenza.” And with the new “reporting changes, some data sets are no longer available.”

Alberta Health defended the move, stating previously reported numbers likely didn’t provide an accurate reflection of community cases, as only laboratory-tested and confirmed cases were included in the data (as changes to Alberta’s laboratory testing eligibilit­y earlier this year would have excluded a large portion of symptomati­c community members).

Alberta Health also says the continued publicatio­n of the University of Calgary’s wastewater testing offers municipali­ties a general idea of community cases.

While government-collected case data regarding individual municipali­ties is no longer being published, the data is still being collected and rolled into data totals for each AHS zone.

As of Oct. 17, the South zone, which includes municipali­ties south of Calgary including Medicine Hat, Redcliff,

Brooks, Lethbridge and surroundin­g areas, was sitting at a seven-day case rate of 34.4 – slightly higher than the province’s seven-day rate of 31.4 – with a total of 107 new cases in the past week.

Local emergency physician and AMA president-elect Dr. Paul Parks says he is concerned over the removal of community case data and what it signals, especially as the number of COVID-19 positive patients in Medicine Hat’s hospital and others throughout the province continue to rise.

“There is absolutely no question transparen­cy and objective data is always a good thing,” Parks told the News. “It is that which actually allows us to make informed decisions and know what’s going on.

“There have been some very specific decision decisions made to migrate away from a big pandemic-response model by the government. And I don’t think the public are really aware anymore of what the risks are without having really clear, objective, transparen­t data.”

Parks says within the past few weeks he has seen a rise in the number of COVID-positive patients presenting to the emergency room locally – a trend reflected in provincial hospitaliz­ation statistics. As of Oct. 17, there were 1,037 Albertans hospitaliz­ed with COVID, with 33 in ICU.

“There’s over 1,000 COVID patients admitted in the hospitals across the province,” said Parks. “That’s almost getting towards where some of our highest peaks were in other waves.”

Parks has also seen a rise in the number of patients with respirator­y illnesses, including influenza, bronchitis, RSV, etc.

While Parks does not wish to discourage anyone from seeking medical treatment at the ER if needed, he is concerned an overload of patients could overwhelm the already strained health-care system. And he urges community members to continue practising good health measures, such as frequent hand washing, wearing masks in large crowds and vaccinatio­n for COVID, as well as seasonal influenza.

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