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Making sense of Halton’s muddled COVID-19 numbers

Making sense of Halton’s muddled COVID-19 numbers
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About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins has been a reporter with Oakville News since 2016. Covering local news and live events, he specializes in film, theatre, and entertainment. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. Tyler is a proud graduate of Journalism and Performing Arts from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Regional Health reports Halton’s muddled COVID-19 case numbers that can be confusing to read. The confusion comes from how they count confirmed cases of COVID-19 and its recoveries in the region.

While technically correct, the counting method means there is no publicly available number of how many confirmed active cases there currently are in Halton. And that’s an important figure that, if it’s not available, it could lead to more serious consequences.

Oakville News began investigating how COVID-19 recoveries in Halton are reported after Halton apparently reported a 100% recovery rate in Oakville on Thursday. As of Friday June 19, 2020, both Thursday and Friday’s reports show multiple discrepancies.

The table below shows Oakville’s recovered/resolved cases exactly matching the number of confirmed cases in town.

Halton Regional Public Health and the Regional Office responded to Oakville News’ inquiries about the main discrepancy. They say “Probable cases undergo the same case and contact management as confirmed cases. We report recoveries and active cases for probable and confirmed cases together because they are considered to present the same risk to the public.”

There is no explanation as to why probable cases are being treated as confirmed cases while still being counted separately. But it does explain why Thursday’s combined number of resolved cases and deaths exceeded the number of confirmed cases.

“Total cases are classified in accordance with provincial case definitions, and includes both confirmed and probable cases,” says Halton Regional Public Health.

Active, confirmed case numbers aren’t public

Still, Thursday and Friday‘s data suggest several unanswered questions. Even when the total returned below 100% on Friday, the numbers still don’t match.

Why don’t they match? Probable case resolutions (cases that turn out not being COVID-19) and recoveries being counted together means the number of confirmed active cases is only known to Halton Regional Public Health.

Halton did given specific numbers of recoveries and resolutions when asked about them.

For Thursday June 18, Oakville had 265 total cases (239 confirmed and 19 probable cases.). 23 of the 265 total cases in Oakville, 23 are currently active. There are 239 are recoveries/resolutions and there have been three deaths.

In addition to the above:

  • Of the 23 currently active cases in Oakville, 22 are confirmed and 1 is probable.
  • Oakville has 214 recovered/resolved cases confirmed to be COVID-19 cases.
  • 25 of those recovered/resolved cases are from probable cases.

This system is strange, especially knowing more than 90% of COVID-19 tests in Ontario are negative.

Halton’s muddled COVID-19 case numbers go beyond Oakville

Oakville isn’t the only town seeing strange numbers. Halton Hills reports a total of 141 confirmed cases as of Friday June 19, 2020. But their combined recoveries and deaths is 150 – nine more cases than they actually have. The reason why is still unknown.

Fluctuating numbers of probable cases makes tracking confirmed and ongoing cases even more difficult. Moving any case files from probable to recovered or resolved, regardless of whether the patient had COVID-19, means the number of recoveries is no longer public information.

In other words, Halton’s public figures no longer say how many confirmed, active COVID-19 cases there are. Meaning resolutions and recoveries are counting as one figure is a problem. Halton Residents have a right to know an accurate assessment of the current risk for going in public.

The good news is Halton’s margin of error in the recovery numbers isn’t one at all. While the numbers are difficult to read an understand, the math is still factually correct. Halton Regional Public Health, however hard it is to understand, is working hard to provide us with accurate information about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Daily tables are available online here with Halton Regional Public Health. The region does not keep past daily table online as a public record.

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