'I try not to get too fixated on the numbers': Health experts urge continued vigilance as COVID numbers fly
WINDSOR, ONT. -- As COVID-19 case counts fluctuate day-to-day, health experts are urging the public to take a broader view of metrics used to help understand the pandemic.
It was on Friday the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) pointed to COVID-19 monitoring indicators including statistics for virus spread and containment, health system capacity, public health capacity and incidence tracking capacity to paint a more complete picture of the situation in the region.
“I try not to get too fixated on the numbers,” said Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, CTV Infectious Disease Expert.
Sharkawy advises a longer-term view when assessing the threat of COVID-19 transmission, noting it can take two-to-four weeks for positive cases to materialize from infection.
He says single-day case counts do not provide a full picture of where the virus is spreading.
“We’re not doing as many tests as we should be doing and we don’t have a contact tracing mechanism that is effective enough to understand where the particular sources of infection are within given communities,” said Sharkawy.
Along with the indicators laid out on Friday, the local health unit has a 7-day moving average that helps to provide a longer-term picture of coronavirus activity.
“When that moving average is under five, it means when we’re looking at the risk to the community, the transmission, is between low to medium,” said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the Medical Officer of Health for Windsor-Essex.
The latest figure is posted for Oct. 27 and sits at 5.9.
It is a data point David Musyj, the president and CEO of Windsor Regional Hospital, wants to see kept low.
Musyj says limiting community spread will help keep hospitalization rates low and maintain health system capacity, which he sees as vital to saving lives with a quarter of hospitalized COVID-patients dying.
“That’s serious. That’s a big number,” said Musyj. “Anyone who says, ‘This is just like the flu.’ No, it’s not.”
Musyj adds while there is just one COVID-patient in a Windsor-Essex hospital bed, and positive cases and assessment centre visits are trending in the right direction, the novel coronavirus is so infectious it won’t take much for those metrics to flip.
“It only takes a couple events, a couple large events, you know a spin class, 56 people, off it goes,” said Musyj. “It doesn’t take a lot for things to change rather dramatically.”
For those pointing to the hospitalization rate as a key indicator of the COVID risk, Sharkawy advises it is not a figure to be relied on as a guiding statistic. Sharkawy calls it a “lagging indicator” and points to the situation in Italy earlier this year where COVID-19 hospitalizations spiked after weeks of uncontrolled community spread.
“There was not a lot going on in hospitals and then about six weeks following that, there was a massive surge of people admitted to the hospital including the [Intensive Care Unit] and their healthcare system effectively collapsed,” said Sharkawy.
As medical experts like Sharkawy advise less fixation on daily counts and more attention to trends, the advice remains the same – to follow public health recommendations including handwashing, mask-wearing and physical-distancing to stop the virus from spreading.
Musyj notes Windsor-Essex has been able to pivot from a COVID-hotspot to a COVID-bubble by following public health recommendations and other restrictions, while other parts of the province experience a worsening second wave.