Public health does not share enough COVID info, says think tank

National COVID-19 tracking program is paused because organizers claim there is not enough consistent and reliable information coming from public health agencies

Getting up-to-date data on COVID-19 is becoming more difficult, and the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) has decided to pause its tracking program into the impact of COVID on long-term care (LTC) homes.  

In a news release issued Thursday, NIA said this is happening at a time when Canada is moving into the seventh wave of the pandemic. 

“We are pausing this project not because the threat to LTC and retirement homes has abated — in fact, case numbers are surging at LTC homes in several provinces. It’s because many of Canada’s provincial and territorial governments and public health authorities are no longer providing enough consistent, accurate and timely data on COVID-19 in LTC and retirement homes,” said the NIA news release. 

“Without this, we can no longer ensure our tracker remains a reliable source of information.”

The National Institute on Ageing is a think tank at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) focused on the realities of Canada’s ageing population. It began producing the tracking page back in April of 2020 by compiling the best available, verifiable data from multiple sources, including public health units, government reports, news media, and sometimes communications issued by the homes themselves, said NIA.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of Health Policy Research for the NIA, expressed his frustration at the lack of available and reliable information.

“A tool like this is only as useful as the data it’s based on, and without consistent and accurate data, we can no longer guarantee a consistent and accurate LTC COVID-19 Tracker,” Sinha said. 

The NIA said the idea for the tracker program goes back to the first days of the pandemic when it was suspected that COVID would have a serious impact on senior citizens and residents of LTC and retirement homes. 

NIA said that by reacting quickly to establish the Tracker Open Data Working Group, NIA became the first organization to consistently track outbreaks, resident and staff cases and deaths in LTC and retirement homes in every Canadian province and territory.

NIA formed a partnership with the Empower Health organization to launch the tracker and begin compiling the best available, verifiable data from multiple sources, including public health units, government reports, news media, and sometimes communications issued by the homes themselves.

In turn, NIA said it was able to provide its data to other institutions to help inform their reports and policy decisions. 

“It became the principal supplier of comprehensive data on COVID-19 in LTC and retirement homes to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, and routinely provided data to the Public Health Agency of Canada,” said the NIA release.

NIA said the tracker also provided key information on how the pandemic was affecting LTC homes and retirement homes and showing there was a disproportionate number of deaths.

“To date, more than 17,000 residents and 30 staff have died of COVID-19, accounting for 43 per cent of Canada’s overall COVID-19 deaths,” said NIA. 

The organization said since the beginning of 2022, the majority of Canadian provinces and territories have been sharing less information about outbreaks and case counts in congregate home settings.

“We no longer feel confident that we can provide the quality of information expected from us,” said the release.

In the meantime, NIA said data collected by the LTC COVID-19 Tracker Open Data Working Group as of July 1, 2022, will be archived and remain available for future use on the LTC COVID-19 Tracker website,

In Sudbury, Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) continues to publish COVID summary reports three days a week, with some details being updated daily. The latest report filed on Thursday afternoon showed there were 15 COVID-19 outbreaks in Sudbury, which included five separate outbreaks at Health Sciences North.