Kingston infectious disease expert urges public to trust the science

Dr. Gerald Evans, medical director of infection control at Kingston Health Sciences Centre. (Whig-Standard file photo)

Michael Lea / Michael Lea/The Whig-Standard/QM

KINGSTON — Kingston’s top infectious disease expert is asking the public to start trusting COVID-19-related science and the statistics.

“We started off way back in the winter and spring with precautionary principles around a lot of things. Now we’ve learned lots and lots about the virus, so we can now apply evidence,” Dr. Gerald Evans, medical director of infection control at Kingston Health Sciences Centre, told the Whig-Standard.

“It’s been very, very hard to convince the public and many others to ‘abandon’ the precautionary principle, not for everything, but for some things. People just held onto that with a degree of uncertainty.”

Leading up to the school year, Evans said epidemiologists were telling the Ontario government to stop focusing on getting children with just a runny nose tested. With the annual rhinoviruses popping up, as usual, the statistics showed that the likelihood of a child with just a runny nose having COVID-19 is very small.

Evans explained they knew this because British Columbia had already gone through it, having started school a few days prior to Ontario. In September, B.C. stated that kids with just a runny nose or just a sore throat wouldn’t need to be tested to return to school.

“We, in Ontario, felt somehow that we needed to have our own data to support that,” Evans said. “Obviously the odd child with what looks like a simple cold may have COVID-19, but, statistically, right now, it’s very unlikely that a child presenting with a singular symptom typically of a cold would have COVID-19.”

Evans said scientists were also telling the government to stop testing asymptomatic people at low risk of contracting the virus months before it actually did at the end of September. Just this week, residents were told that if they test positive for COVID-19, they only need to isolate for 10 days instead of 14 because science and data had proven that people stop shedding the virus at that time.

“The problem, intrinsically in our system and the way we run things through government and all the appropriate channels, is it seems to take an awful amount of time for the science and the data to get to the point where then the government acts on it,” Evans said. He added later, “That delay nowadays, I think, is just not acceptable. We need to be nimbler on our feet.”

Dr. Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health, said that when the health unit is making local recommendations, it’s always following the data, but decisions are being made on a week-to-week basis.

He said that for Halloween, for example, it won’t be making recommendations until the week of the big day, and especially not until after Thanksgiving.

“We’re always trying to incorporate data-driven decision-making that’s proportionate, that’s responsive to where we are as a community week by week by week,” Moore said. “I know people want earlier guidance, but we can’t make good recommendations until we understand the epidemiology and how the virus is affecting our community.”

The statistic residents should be watching on public health agencies’ dashboards is the percentage of new tests that are done that are positive. Evans said that number tells them that there are increasing cases despite the fewer number of tests that are being done.

On Thursday in Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington, that number was .34 per cent in the past seven days. When the Whig-Standard spoke with Evans on Wednesday, that number was .48 per cent. He explained that meant the region would have to do 200 tests to find a positive one.

“Although in southeastern Ontario and in KFLA our numbers are really low, in parts of Toronto the rates of positive tests, in some cases in the northwest of Toronto, it’s actually about 10 per cent,” Evans said. “That means they’re literally finding one (positive) person for every 10 tests they do. That’s crazy. If they did 200 tests in parts of Toronto, they’d find 20 cases.

“That gives you what the circulation, what the prevalence, how many cases are likely out there in your region.”

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