How administrative data and analytics were used to support Ontario’s COVID-19 pandemic response
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, data and analytics have been crucial to both understanding the virus’ impact on populations and health systems and informing the public health response. The unprecedented need for timely, relevant analytics presented challenges to many health systems.
ICES - an independent, not-for-profit research institute funded by the Ministry of Health in Ontario, Canada -- responded to this challenge by supporting decision-makers with near real-time data and analytics to help inform COVID-19 testing and vaccination roll-out.
Using existing research infrastructure and public health expertise, ICES adapted its policies and procedures to provide more rapid and regular reports and analytics to policymakers and local Public Health Units across the province. Corresponding author and ICES Scientist, Michael Paterson, explained that "Within weeks, we pivoted to linking the provincial data repository to the newly acquired COVID-19 testing and vaccination data. This allowed us to report on:
- Characterizing who was getting tested and testing positive for SARS-CoV-2;
- Testing rates by small geographic area;
- Percent positivity – the number of individuals testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 divided by the number of individuals who were tested; and
- COVID-19 vaccine coverage.”
Particularly useful have been reports by small geographic areas, such as by postal code Forward Sortation Areas, for which population size ranges from 500 to 125,000 residents. These reports have enabled health system stakeholders to monitor COVID-19 incidence, testing, and vaccine uptake at a more local level to target interventions such as mobile testing and vaccination clinics more precisely.
ICES also shared these reports on its website (https://www.ices.on.ca/DAS/AHRQ/COVID-19-Dashboard) for broader, public consumption. One such report focused on the variation in vaccine coverage among neighbourhoods with lower versus higher risk of COVID-19 infection, which attracted significant media attention and prompted re-direction of vaccination resources.
This paper summarizes how ICES staff and scientists came together and adapted to meet the information needs of health system stakeholders and the public. ICES continues to support Ontario’s COVID-19 pandemic response and has more recently provided data and analytics on higher-risk populations in need of vaccine booster doses, such as immunocompromised and pregnant individuals.
J Michael Paterson, ICES, Toronto, ON
Chung, H., Azimaee, M., Bronskill, S. E., Cartagena, R. ., Guttmann, A., Ho, M. M., Ishiguro, L., Kwong, J. C., Paterson, J. M., Ratnasingham, S. ., Rosella, L., Schull, M. J., Vermeulen, M. J. and Victor, J. C. (2020) “Pivoting data and analytic capacity to support Ontario’s COVID-19 response”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 5(4). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v5i4.1682.