Less is more, Manitoba premier says in defence of shift to weekly COVID-19 data reporting

When it comes to releasing COVID-19 data, Manitoba’s premier appears to believe that less is more.

Heather Stefanson said Manitobans are gleaning more from a once-a-week snapshot of COVID data, complete with trends, than from the long-standing practice of releasing case counts, hospitalizations and outbreak reports on a daily basis.

The weekly epidemiology report that is now being released every Thursday, provides enough context to assess the severity of the virus, the premier said Tuesday. She has previously said Manitobans are now in a place to assess the COVID-19 risk for themselves and potentially adjust their lives accordingly.

“What Manitobans want is relevant information so they can make those decisions,” the premier said during question period at the legislature on Tuesday.

“What they want to know is what the trends are. Weekly numbers offer what those trends are.”

The province no longer has any public health restrictions, treating COVID-19 as a disease that is in the process of becoming endemic.

But there’s no question that since the province issued its final daily update on March 25, Manitobans have had less data to rely on — and the information that is now provided every Thursday is already a week old by the time it’s released.

As well, hospitalization numbers now present a snapshot of how many people were admitted with COVID-19 during a given week, rather than offering a complete picture of how many COVID-19 patients are currently in hospital. 

In addition, the list of COVID-19 outbreaks the province releases no longer counts the number of people affected.

Opposition parties say the premier’s support of the weekly report versus daily data defies comprehension.

“We know it’s not better than daily information,” NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said.

The MLA accused the Progressive Conservative government of withholding data from Manitobans as part of a “strategy to avoid accountability.”

“They don’t want to be accountable to that data. They don’t want to have to answer questions from Manitobans as to why they’re not acting based on what that data is telling us,” Asagwara said.

A lot can change in a week: Liberals

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said more information is simply better. 

“If [the data] is more granular, it gives you a better sense of where you’re going,” he said.

“The idea that we’re better off knowing after a week where the trends are just isn’t the case, especially when you can see massive changes within a week.”

Though the release of public data has changed, Stefanson insisted the province remains on top of the COVID-19 situation and is regularly monitoring the pandemic’s severity.

Last week, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the release of a weekly epidemiology report for COVID-19 is similar to what’s done for other infectious diseases, such as the West Nile virus.

However, nobody in Manitoba has died of West Nile in the last five years, while 1,744 people have died of COVID-19 since March 2020.