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Ontario admits COVID-19 death toll is significantly higher than what it reports daily
TORONTO -- Ontario's COVID-19 death toll is significantly higher than the number reported each day by the province, the Ministry of Health confirmed to CTV News Toronto, due to a discrepancy in data regarding long-term care homes.
On Friday, public health officials confirmed that the province's Integrated Public Health Information System (iPHIS) under reported Ontario's death toll by 110 people. While the system reported that 763 lives had been lost to the virus, the true number is 873.
"There probably are more deaths in long-term care then we're reflecting in iPHIS," Ontario's Associate Medical Officer of Health Barbara Yaffe said.
The government says the discrepancy stems from two separate data sets – iPHIS and the Ministry of Long-Term Care – which often operate on entirely different timelines.
While iPHIS data is reliant on local public health units to input the information, the Ministry of Long-Term Care relies on its "immediate relationships with homes" to determine how many residents have been infected with COVID-19 and how many have died.
The result is two vastly different figures – from the number of residents and staff who have contracted the virus, to the number of people who have died as a result.
Travis Kann, director of communications to Health Minister Christine Elliott, says while the government uses the numbers provided by iPHIS to plan its COVID-19 response, the data is used "with the understanding that that is an under representation of the number of deaths."
"We have been clear from the outset that there has been a lag from iPHIS, as we wait for local public health units to input the data," Kann told CTV News Toronto.
Calculating the death toll
Kann says to get a more "immediate understanding" of the true number of deaths, the "reasonable thing to do" would be to calculate the difference in death toll between iPHIS and the Ministry of Long-Term Care and add it to the province-wide figure reported by iPHIS.
For example, on Friday the ministry reported a total of 573 long-term care residents had died after contracting COVID-19, while iPHIS reported 463 deaths during the same time.
The difference of 110, the government says, should then be added to the total number of deaths reported by iPHIS to determine the true figure, putting Ontario's current COVID-19 death toll at 873.
'No system is perfect'
The province's reporting system has come under intense scrutiny and criticism during the COVID-19 crisis, over a lack of consistency in information.
CTV News Toronto reported on the discrepancy earlier this month after noticing that the number of deaths confirmed by local public health units was nearly double what Ontario was reporting at one point.
Multiple discrepancies have led to multiple changes in the way the province reports its virus-related data, leading to the inclusion of 12 footnotes clarifying why the information might be incomplete.
"No system is perfect," Yaffe said on Friday before adding that the government is working on reconciling the numbers for the various data sets.
"We are working on it and there is a lot of interest in bringing the databases together, but at this point the best we can do is present the data from both," Yaffe said.
Confidence in the system
The government, however, is still expressing confidence in the system.
"We are confident that iPHIS is providing a good snapshot of what is happening in the community," Kann says. "We are also at a place where the vast majority of new cases and deaths are from long term care homes."
While Yaffe routinely presents data from the ministry of long-term care on a daily basis, including the number of deaths reported, she cautions that the information is simply an administrative database.
"Are they counting people who died of COVID-19 or are they also counting other people who died?" Yaffe said.
Yaffe said health officials are still relying on iPHIS because of the epidemiological data attached to every confirmed COVID-19 patient or death.
"It has a lot of information about the cases, about their potential exposures, their demographic, their contacts and so on."