Opinion: We need a data-driven approach to tackle COVID-19, not a second lockdown

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Let’s be clear: Canada can’t afford a second lockdown

Since the start of the pandemic, we have focused on three Cs: a consistent approach to tackling the virus, clarity of public health guidelines, and adherence to those rules to control the virus. To these we can add another C: context.

While the number of cases and trends are important, it is just as important to contextualize these numbers. Let’s apply the local and global knowledge we’ve gained over the past eight months. Yes, people should wear masks in indoor public places, keep a distance of two meters where possible, and follow other local public health guidelines. But they also need a lot more information than they are currently receiving.

Public health agencies should be more transparent about where outbreaks are occurring in communities to help educate the general public. Do today’s numbers represent new outbreaks or existing epidemics? Is the source of the infection known or unknown? How effective is contact tracing? Who is infected and where? What can we learn from these outbreaks?

People line up in their cars at a COVID-19 testing center in Toronto on September 18, 2020. Photo par Cole Burston / Bloomberg

Rather than lockdowns, it is not too late for targeted, data-driven public health responses to reduce the increase in COVID-19 cases.

So how do we best contain the epidemics we see?

First, we need to focus on where epidemics are occurring and what drives them, and we need high-quality data for that. Is this a long term care home? A private party? A building? A bar? Each of these examples requires a different public health response. By exploring the source of the infection, public health officials can target outbreaks with appropriate interventions without shutting down entire communities.

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