Municipalities in Windsor-Essex are requesting the local health unit provide more detailed data on COVID-19 cases in the region, in hopes it will allow them to safely reopen.
But the region's medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said he's concerned giving out too much information in rural settings could breach people's privacy and might give the community a false sense of security.
On Monday, councillors in Kingsville agreed to submit a letter to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit demanding more specific data on COVID-19 cases. The Kingsville area currently has the third highest rate of COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex.
Kingsville Counc. Kimberly DeYong, who brought the idea to council Monday, said the town needs more specific data so it can decide if it can safely hold events or open up areas like beaches and splash pads.
She said staff and council don't know how many active COVID-19 cases are in the area, or the demographic with the highest case count.
DeYong reasoned that if the municipality knew what age group accounted for the majority of cases, it might defer opening activities that cater to that audience. If most of the cases were in younger people, for example, she said they might decide against opening splash pads.
As it stands, the health unit puts out a detailed epidemiological report every Friday that includes a breakdown of the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases in each municipality in the health unit over three time ranges:
- Since the beginning of the pandemic.
- Over the past 30 days.
- Over the past seven days.
It also shows how the case load is distributed by municipality, the age breakdown and the rate per 100,000 people.
But DeYong said what her municipality needs, is community-level statistics; giving information for the entire Town of Kingsville is too broad — with a population of 21,000.
"If I personally was told that today there are no cases in my Kingsville town proper then perhaps I would go out to one of those restaurants and maybe I've been holding back," DeYong said.
"We have businesses that are struggling to open, we have a lot of people in fear that are afraid to go and engage with our community and with our businesses."
Protecting individual privacy
But at the health unit's daily COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, Ahmed said he's concerned about providing more specifics, especially for regions outside the city cores.
"It's very sparsely populated and if we are taking about identifying any region or hotspot it would put individuals' privacy at risk and it also undermines the whole importance of taking public health measures," Ahmed said, adding that public health's data also has gaps.
He said someone could be infectious and not known to public health, but if people think a certain neighbourhood is clear and don't follow the rules, they will put themselves and others at risk.
"As much as I appreciate the need for more data, I also don't want to undermine the importance of taking public health measures," he said.
Towns of Essex, Lakeshore join call
DeYong said she and others aren't looking for addresses or specifics, they just want more granular data and to know where hotspots are located.
The Town of Essex wants the same information as Kingsville, confirmed Ward 4 Counc. Sherry Bondy on Tuesday. She said she wants to see more timely information because by the time they get the weekly daily report, the information is outdated.
"We can do better," she said. "What we're doing isn't working, time to fix it."
Bondy said she hopes applying pressure will change things.
Counc. John Kerr from the Town of Lakeshore told CBC he also plans to bring forward a motion in support of Kingsville's letter at the community's council meeting Tuesday night.
"It's important for [the community to know] so they can take more action," he said. "[The community] feels they're doing it right and so if there's more they can do...they're going to do it because they want to participate to keep everybody safe."
Kerr also disagreed with Ahmed's remarks and hopes that if enough communities come forward requesting the data, the health unit might agree to give them the information.
"Knowledge is power," Kerr said. "It's an invisible disease and we have to know where it's moving."