LILLEY: Big COVID numbers need context

We saw 700 new COVID-19 cases reported on Monday leading some to say we need to lockdown once again even though more than one-third of those cases might be false positives and the new cases were not all from one day.

As usual, context is important but sadly, in much of our media reporting on these issues, context is lacking. Eight months into dealing with COIVD and some in the media seem to only focus on two things: the number of new cases and whether we should lockdown again.

At 700 new cases, Monday’s COVID update was the largest single one-day increase in Ontario, the previous record of 640 new cases was set five months ago.

On April 24, when the previous record was announced, there were people in 910 hospital, 243 of them were in ICU and there were 50 deaths reported. On Monday, there were 128 people in hospitals across the province, 29 of them are in ICU and one new death.

As the province has increased testing capacity, it has also seen a backlog of tests waiting to be processed. Last Wednesday, there were more than 48,000 tests waiting to be processes, by Sunday that figure had grown to 65,061.

And while in the spring COVID-19 was running rampant through long-term care facilities, there were just eight new cases among residents and five new cases among staff members reported on Monday across the more than 600 facilities.

The 20-39 age group accounted for 317 new cases reported on Monday while there were just 15 cases over the age of 80.

Still, we have some people who look at rising case counts and think we must lockdown again. Cases have been on the rise for weeks but thankfully, hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions have not followed at the same pace.

Williams is right: many of us got “very casual” over the past while as things opened up again. It’s time for us to get back to watching ourselves — our own actions, including limiting contacts, washing our hands, keeping our distance — to turn these numbers back.

Do your part to stop the calls for a second lockdown.

COVID-19 by the numbers

— New cases: 700

— Number of tests: 41,111

— Percent positive: 1.7%

— Total cases since January: 50,531

— Total recovered cases: 43,127

— Total tests: 3,808,226

— Percent positive since January: 1.3%

— New deaths: 1

— Total deaths since January: 2,840

— Patients currently in hospital: 128

— Patients currently in ICU: 29

— Patients currently on a ventilator: 17

— New cases in schools: 36

— Total cases in schools: 272

— New cases in LTC, residents: 8

— New cases in LTC, staff: 5

New cases by age group

— Ages 19-under: 101

— Ages 20-39: 317

— Ages 40-59: 183

— Ages 60-79: 87

— Ages: 80 and over: 15

More than 15,000 of those were processed on the weekend, the province now reports a backlog of 49,586. So, the dramatic increase in new cases is partially driven by tests done last week that were only processed on the weekend.

This is not a true one-day total.

Then there is the question of whether our massive increase in testing is generating false positives.

Critics of the PCR testing being used claim that 90% of positive results are false positives, a number our health officials dispute. Yet, even Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate medical officer, has said testing large populations without COVID can result in high rates of false positives, as much as 50%. Is Ontario experiencing false positives?

“We’ve been looking at that,” Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, told me Monday afternoon.

Williams said that as the percentage of positive tests drops, the likelihood of false positives grows.

“We know that when you’re around 1%, about 36%, especially in areas of low prevalence, can be false positives,” Williams said. “Out of these 700, there’s still a big, significant number that are not false positives. That’s concerning to me.”

Williams said the false positives are higher now than they were in the spring.

The profile of cases continues to be dramatically different than the spring, as well. On April 24, people under the age of 40 accounted for 24.9% of all cases up until that point, now they account for 60% of new cases.

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