In the absence of government data, Montreal father creates website to track schools with COVID-19 cases

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MONTREAL – The Quebec government has not said whether it will start educating the public about COVID-19 cases in schools – but some citizens do not seem willing to wait.A Montreal father who has launched a new website to track COVID-19 cases at school says he has already recorded more than 100,000 pageviews.

In August, “I concluded that we were heading towards a second wave and that our children would be in an experiment,” Olivier Drouin told CTV News.

“I wanted to capture the data at the source and make it available to all parents [and] teachers, so that they can make informed decisions about the start of the school year. ”

Last week, as French-language schools reopened, he launched an in-house site called Covid Ecoles Quebec which allows the public to submit reports of coronavirus cases in schools across the province.

It provides a list and map showing cases that Drouin was able to confirm to his standards after his own basic verification process.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, and he says that if the government started releasing its own numbers, it would stop collecting its own – but after losing some faith in the official numbers, it would first want to check that they were doing good. work, he said in an email.

Drouin is vice president of a technology company that provides high tech human resources software. He lives in Montreal and has two daughters, one 13 and one 15, he said.

So far, its site has published the names of 33 schools with at least one case of COVID-19 each. Aside from the skyrocketing pageviews, Drouin said he received “hundreds of submissions” last week from parents and others.

“Not all are published,” he said, as sometimes “information is missing” or in many cases he receives duplicate reports for the same case.

Aside from being participatory source, there are a few important caveats to keep in mind for anyone viewing their site: on the one hand, they don’t try to count the number of cases, but the number of schools, he said. .

If it can confirm, by its standards, a case related to a school, the school goes on the list. The government, meanwhile, counts an outbreak as two or more cases.

As for the verification, “the easiest way to verify is to present a copy of the letter that schools send to all parents when a case arises, because it is now compulsory everywhere in Quebec”, he declared.

If he doesn’t have it, he said, “I’m looking for media coverage. Some of the schools listed on its website have a link to a news article.

The website also has a map showing where the affected schools are located. These come with another caveat: At first glance, the map appears to show huge epidemics, with dozens of numbers attached to the precise point of each school.

But those big numbers aren’t meant to show the number of cases, he said. They’re chronological to when he entered them, so a mark saying “32”, for example, means it’s the 32nd school he found, not that there are 32 cases.

Drouin said his frustration with the government’s handling of the pandemic, and in particular its transparency around data, increased for months before he thought of crowdsourcing data.

“In particular, when schools reopened in May outside of Montreal,” he said, “the government claimed great success, but no data was available to measure that.

Quebeckers only learned later that there were 41 school-related cases, he said. (This news was announced approximately two to three weeks after the schools reopened.)

He thinks others are also wary, due to a combination of government choices and data errors.

“Because the government fails to make this data available and accessible, it lacks transparency,” he said.

“People don’t trust the numbers reported every day because there have been so many problems with data communication,” he added, referring to the infamous fax machines used to collect infection reports and data reported as lost or contaminated in various locations. points.

Drouin said he was not against returning children to school, but he wanted more safety measures to be taken, including reducing class sizes, improving ventilation, making in place of masks in the classes and the offer to more people of distance learning.

The Quebec government has not said whether it even plans to release data on COVID-19 cases in schools.

So far, the outbreaks that have been made public – including one involving 81 people in a Quebec City school and an outbreak in Deux-Montagnes that has 20 teachers in quarantine – have largely been to the media to confirm, with the collaboration schools and regional health authorities.

Drouin said he would like the province to start publishing routine data on schools.

“Depending on the quality and accessibility of the data they would produce, yes, I would [shut my site down], ” he said. “I have a day job.”

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