COVID-19 'hot spot' list left off 30 per cent of recommendations: advisory table

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Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table says it's unclear why the provincial government designated certain neighbourhoods as COVID-19 hot spots and not others. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table says it's unclear why the provincial government designated certain neighbourhoods as COVID-19 hot spots and not others. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Members of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table say the provincial government only included about 70 per cent of neighbourhoods it recommended be designated hot spots.

Director Dr. Peter Juni told CBC's Ontario Today that the table was asked by the province to provide a list of postal codes it felt was at greatest risk.

The list it created included about 20 per cent of Ontario's population, mostly in the Greater Toronto Area. But Juni said when the government revealed the final designations, there were some neighbourhoods that the science table couldn't "replicate how they came on there."

In a statement, Rob Steiner, another member of the table, said they did not "determine the actual [postal codes] that the government would ultimately prioritize in its vaccine strategy."

K2V with second-lowest hot spot population

Earlier this month, the province released a list of 114 postal code zones designated as hot spots and announced the start of targeted vaccinations in those areas for people aged 50 and up.

It later announced that all adults in those hot spots would be eligible to get vaccinated immediately.

Included in that list are the K1T, K1V and the K2V postal codes in Ottawa. In a memo from Ottawa Public Health, the first two postal codes contain what it's identified as high-priority neighbourhoods, but K2V has none.

The postal code, which includes Stittsville and Kanata, has the second lowest population of all the province's designated hot spots with just 2,435 people, according to the most recent Statistics Canada census in 2016.

The only other postal code with a lower population is L9E, the Milton-Halton region, with 723 people. The populations of K1V and K1T are between 35,000 and 54,000.

Province defends decision

Both the NDP and Liberals questioned the province's list of hot spots earlier this week.

For its part, the province said in a statement that hot spots were "identified based on Public Health Ontario data and criteria including hospitalizations, outbreak data, low testing rates and deaths during the second wave of the pandemic."

It said regions in the highest 20 per cent were identified as hot spot communities, and regions in the top 30 per cent that had significant low-income populations or faced other challenges were also included.

The undertaking also applied "an anti-racism lens to ensure Ontario protects vulnerable communities," the province said.

The province defended including the K2V postal code, saying it had "44 per cent more COVID ICU cases per 10,000 than the provincial average."

But given that the population of the K2V area is so low, CBC asked how much weight the province's calculations bears on its decision to label it as a "hot spot."

As of Friday evening, the province had not sent a response.