What the Government Isn't Telling You About COVID
By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
It's the first week of April, spring is in the air and there should be a ton of positive vibes that winter is over and better times are ahead. There isn't though, because the third wave of COVID19 is well upon us.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw (or whoever does Twitter messages for her) sent a Tweet over the weekend warning of an outbreak of the Brazilian variant in Alberta, without saying where that outbreak is. Once again, the way Alberta Health Services communicates leaves a lot to be desired.
We are getting the information though in forms we can all see and understand, however it's not coming from government. The best storytellers are those who can visually show us what's really happening.
Doing Good Work
About a week and a half ago, I got the Pfizer COVID vaccination and I thought about how we are starting to see some light at the end of the COVID tunnel. People are getting vaccinated and spring is here, but the latest numbers are still worrisome. Hopefully that light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a freight train.
There have been some good things that have come out of the pandemic and one is the way non-government organizations have found ways to provide important statistical COVID data, and do it in a way we all can understand.
Let me give you a few examples. Last year I wrote about the Support Our Students (SOS) website. This site was put together by volunteers and it’s been giving us better information about COVID cases in schools than Alberta Health Services and Dr. Deena Hinshaw. Many people believe the numbers coming from SOS about what's really happening in schools more than the AHS data. Why not? SOS was posting actual letters being sent home with students about COVID cases and outbreaks. The work of the SOS site has been outstanding. The information is accurate, constantly updated, easy to understand and transparent. Isn’t that what we expect from government?
We also had people in the news media going above and beyond spitting out the latest numbers from AHS. They’ve been using software to develop colourful charts to clearly illustrate where we are in the fight against COVID.
It would be easy enough to regurgitate the latest numbers from AHS, but Matthew Black of CTV News and Robson Fletcher of CBC are doing exceptional work. If you’re on Twitter you need to follow both of them, because quite frankly they provide far better information than AHS and they do it in a way that’s easy to find, understand and to remember.
Aryn Toombs - A Labour of Love
There’s somebody else who deserves a ton of credit for the work he’s been doing, especially since it’s a labour of love for him. I’m happy to devote most of my blog this week to talk about the work done by Aryn Toombs, because he deserves it.
Aryn is a former photojournalist from Calgary who has worked for the Calgary Herald and the newspaper in Canmore. I talked to him last week about the work he does and told him I’m a fan of what he’s been doing. Aryn is one of the volunteers on the SOS site. His father was a teacher and he has good friends who are teachers. He has closely followed the COVID situation in schools and has been concerned about it for months.
Aryn is a computer coder. He's been taking the COVID information from the AHS website and turns it into colourful charts that are easy to understand. More than anything else, they also give us a great snapshot of our current situation and put some context to it. Just a few days ago, Aryn put all his information on a new website called Charting Alberta Covid and I encourage everyone to join me in bookmarking it because it will be constantly updated with new information. In my mind, it will become the “go to” source for COVID data in Alberta. Aryn tells me he plans to improve the site in the coming days, including making it more accessible for those who are visually impaired.
When it comes to the data being released by AHS, Aryn says it really only shows our current status. It doesn’t show us where we have been and where we are likely headed. I agree.
How AHS Can Do Better
It seems to me that the charts and graphs developed by Aryn often make me stop and think to myself “Holy shit, this is terrible. Look at how quickly the variants have spread.” For some reason though, I rarely get that reaction from the information from AHS. Maybe that’s by design.
Don’t get me wrong. When you go to the AHS COVID19 website, there’s a great deal of statistical information. It has the latest numbers on everything from new cases, to deaths, to information on variants. But it seems very little is done with those numbers.
The AHS Twitter feed has almost 50,000 followers. A quick scan of the timeline shows a number of happy photos of people getting vaccinated and some general information about who can get vaccinated and how appointments can be booked. Then there’s the AHS Communications Twitter feed. It has over 15,000 followers, but the content there is much the same.
Nowhere on AHS Twitter will you find graphical information like Aryn is doing. Information that clearly shows how bad the situation is getting in Alberta because of the spread of variants. While Dr. Deena Hinshaw talks at news conferences of her concern about the spread of variants, AHS certainly isn’t going out of its way to show Albertans why she’s concerned. It’s the usual opening statements from her, followed by a few questions from the media that provide little additional information.
Aryn can’t understand it either, especially since he uses the same statistical computing language software as AHS does.
Just before the Easter weekend, Premier Kenney joined Dr. Hinshaw at her news conference to urge Albertans to follow the rules, especially with rising case numbers. It was more of the same “personal responsibility” message we’re heard from politicians for over a year. It’s now white noise to many people. There are those who have followed the rules for over a year, but there are many others who haven’t and are getting away with it. Maybe putting the info in front of them in a different way than AHS has been doing it for over a year would make a difference?
Maybe AHS should just hire Aryn and start using his charts on Twitter?
Image credit: Charting Alberta Covid