Lambton’s MOH says releasing detailed COVID-19 locations could cause problems, wouldn’t show if mask bylaws work

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Lambton’s medical officer of health says politicians couldn’t accurately gauge if a mandatory mask bylaw works by looking at data showing the number of COVID-19 cases in each community of the county.

Dr. Sudit Ranade was responding from questions by reporters Thursday, one day after Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley asked Lambton County council – who are all members of the board of health – to order the medical officer of health to release COVID-19 statistics for each municipality weekly. That request will be considered Sept. 16 after councillors hear from Ranade.

Ranade says there are several problems with releasing the information, including the possibility of a person – particularly in small communities – being identified as having COVID-19. It is against the law to release personal health information and with such small numbers of people, Ranade says it would be possible for people to pinpoint who had the virus

And he says even if the data were released, it wouldn’t necessarily show if mandatory mask bylaws work.

“It’s a misconception that you couldn’t use the data on incidents to track back to the mask policy in any effective way. Because there are so many other pieces to why there are cases,” he told reporters.

“Cases are really driven by social behavior. And large portions of that behavior occur in places where by law is not implementable, such as private setting … It’s going to be a big stretch to think you can take the numbers later and say, ‘Oh, this municipality didn’t have a mask bylaw and that’s why the numbers are different.'”

And Ranade says releasing the information wouldn’t give an accurate picture to the public because there is a lag in when the people contract COVID-19 and when it is reported.

“By the time we’re telling you that something’s somewhere it’s not really there anymore. It’s somewhere else.

“And although it’s comforting and intuitive, (to have community data) it’s not necessarily accurate or factual. “

Ranade added; “Where we can better characterize the outbreak by dividing cases into different groups, we will try to do that. But we try to do it in a way that doesn’t mislead people about it.”