Transparency and Long Term Vision
As we look towards what our long term approach to Covid will be, it's critical to ensure that we’re using all of the tools at our disposal to craft our policies. As we’ve seen lately, using confirmed cases of Covid as our main indicator of the pandemic situation has serious drawbacks. When we’ve exhausted our testing capacity we’re left without any clear idea of how widespread infections are. And even under more manageable circumstances, it’s not clear how much an increase in confirmed Covid cases means an increase in transmission. If more people go to get tested, we’ll likely have more confirmed cases. For example, as kids return to school in the fall more people are likely to go for Covid tests, since following exposure or signs of slight symptoms a negative test result may be needed to send a child back to school. So we may see more cases being confirmed in September than in August, even though a portion of this increase may simply be more people getting tested who otherwise wouldn’t have been.
We have, however, a more consistent form of tracking Covid cases across time - analyzing wastewater. Covid is present in sewage, and techniques are being developed to get as clear a picture as possible of how much the virus is circulating based on analyzing wastewater. The results are less impacted by factors that have nothing to do with actual case loads. Despite Ontario, the U.S., and a number of European countries using this technique to get as reliable a picture as possible of current transmission, Quebec recently decided not to invest in developing such a system province-wide. Depriving ourselves of a relatively inexpensive tool which is being widely used and refined elsewhere in the world leaves us less able to craft proactive solutions down the road.
It’s also important that the information we publish and use is accurate. We’ve been told by the provincial ministry of health (MSSS) that over 99% of those aged 12 to 17 have received at least a first dose of the vaccine, and the Minister of Health has cited this group as an example for the rest of society. This number is however surprisingly high, as it is almost 10 points greater than vaccination rates of their parents’ generation, and 14 points higher than for this age group in Ontario. The National Public Health Institute of Quebec (INSPQ) instead says that only 85% of Quebecers aged 12 to 17 have received a first dose, a number nearly identical to that of Ontario. At a time when vaccination status is dominating public discourse, our institutions should make doubly sure that the numbers they’re providing are accurate, and the provincial government should certainly harmonize its measures of vaccination rates.
By making transparent decisions over the coming months as we move towards reopening our society for the long term, and by engaging with experts and representatives from all parts of our society, we can ensure that our policies have the best chance of succeeding.