Online pandemic tracker launched to report COVID-19 outbreaks


Ontario Now Has An “Early Warning System” For COVID-19 Hospital Increases, An Online Pandemic Tracking Tool Using Machine Learning And Real-Time Data To try to report where and when the province’s health care system is overwhelmed.

Using natural language processing, a type of machine learning, the tool scans province-wide hospital admission data for words and phrases that can be used when doctors admit a patient with COVID-19: not only “COVID”, but also a language related to pneumonia, sepsis and asthma, syndromes that the disease creates or worsens.

The pandemic tracker does not display any confirmed diagnoses. This is actually why it is useful: rather than relying on positive laboratory tests – which currently lag several days and take 24 hours under ideal circumstances – the tool offers an immediate look at startup COVID-19 overvoltage, Prime Minister Doug Ford warned. would come soon.

In fact, the pandemic tracker is already showing that hospital admissions for COVID-19 syndromes are higher than historical averages in Ontario.

“Today, it’s slightly higher than we expected, and to be honest, I’m worried,” says Dr. Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health, the office of local health which developed the tool.

“We are going to look now to see if that number continues to take off. “

Erie-St. Clair, the region that includes Windsor and Chatham-Kent, is “enlightened,” says Moore. This region experiences an even greater peak than the province as a whole, in the seven hospitals that report data to the tracker.

Although it is not clear why Erie-St. Clair could see an increase in COVID-19 – and it’s important to remember that the tool only suggests increases – this could be the impact of the border with Michigan, says Moore, who is still open to crossings for thousands of healthcare workers traveling back and forth to the United States.


Moore and other public health experts will monitor the pandemic tool, but the public can also access it.

“I have heard complaints that public health or the health care system is not transparent with their data. So we decided with our partners to make this accessible, ”he says.

“We think it will be a signal that will help everyone understand the impact of COVID-19.”

The pandemic tracker relies on a system called ACES (Acute Care Enhanced Surveillance), which was developed after the 2003 SARS crisis to provide an early warning system in the event of a pandemic. Communication breakdowns between hospital emergency departments and public health services during SARS were just one of the many information silos that fueled the spread of the disease, says Moore.

ACES was created to send a signal for an unusual group of hospital admissions, whether it be another infectious disease outbreak, a bioterrorism event, or another public health crisis . Since then, ACES has been put into service for influenza surveillance and is used annually to monitor influenza outbreaks across the province.


In mid-February, the ACES influenza mapping tool began to show a flurry of emergency room patients with flu-like symptoms: a possible flare-up of COVID-19 because illnesses share symptoms. But then, the province’s dedicated COVID-19 assessment centers began to open, and emergency room visits for flu-like symptoms dropped.

Nor was it a reliable signal, Moore says: emergency services were inundated with people worried about COVID-19 and wanted a laboratory test, making it difficult to spot a true regional peak because hospitals around the world are seeing the same influx. When the assessment centers opened, they siphoned non-COVID patients as well as the real ones.

The Kingston Public Health team has therefore rebuilt the new pandemic tracker, which monitors all admissions – not just emergency room visits – and searches for a group of syndromes that Moore believes to be the most predictive of patients COVID-19 actual, based on what hospitals in other countries have affected. by the pandemic have seen.

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“We think this will be well correlated with the increase and the requirement for people to be admitted for COVID-19,” said Moore.

“It should give everyone in the community, not just the health system partners, but directly to the public, an idea if there is increased activity in their community and the impacts of this increased disease activity on the health system.

Kate allen
Kate Allen is a Toronto journalist who covers science and technology. Follow her on Twitter: @katecallen


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