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Ontario NDP leader asks auditor general to review how COVID-19 ‘hot spots’ were chosen by province

The leader of Ontario’s NDP has formally requested that the auditor general review how the province designated certain areas as COVID-19 “hot spots” for prioritization in the vaccine rollout.

Andrea Horwath, leader of the opposition New Democrats and MPP for Hamilton Centre, said she was concerned that the Ford government’s designations were “inequitable” and do not target the areas with the highest rates of infection.

“I am increasingly concerned that the rollout of these vaccines, which every Ontarian deserves, is becoming a political issue rather than a public health one,” wrote Horwath in a letter addressed to auditor general Bonnie Lysyk.

“I am seeking your office’s review of the data so that Ontarians are assured the vaccines are going where they are needed the most.”

Read more:
Ontario releases more details on COVID vaccinations for adults 18+ in hot spot neighbourhoods

The issue was also raised during question period at Queen’s Park on Monday by Essex MPP Taras Natyshak.

“No one should be playing politics with getting Ontarians vaccines,” said Natyshak. “If it were just simply a massive oversight, they could make it right today. They could change the areas in which they distribute and identify vaccine hot spots.”

Click to play video: Phase 2 of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout begins with a focus on hot spots

Health Minister Christine Elliott responded by calling the accusation of political interference “unbelievable.”

“Unbelievable that you should make any sort of suggestion, while we’re dealing with the life and death of people across this province, that there was some political interference.”

She said the selection of those hot spot neighbourhoods was based on data from Public Health Ontario and recommendations from the province’s COVID-19 science advisory table, adding that more areas will be added to the list going forward.

“As we receive more vaccines and more hot spots are identified by the science advisory table and the medical experts, we will be able to expand. But right now, we’re short on supply. We need to receive more.”

Read more:
COVID-19 vaccinations by postal code begin as Ontario targets hot spot neighbourhoods

Currently, only two Hamilton postal codes have been designated as COVID-19 “hot spots” by the province – L8W and L9C, both on the Mountain.

The city’s medical officer of health has also identified postal codes beginning with L8L and L8N — both in the lower city — and L9K on the west Mountain as “hot spots” with elevated levels of infection.

While residents aged 50 and older living in those areas can book a vaccine appointment through public health’s COVID-19 hotline (905-974-9848, option 7), they cannot book through the provincial online portal.

Click to play video: Ontario Premier Ford defends vaccine rollout, says it’s simple to book appointment

Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP Donna Skelly, who is Hamilton’s only Progressive Conservative representative, said prioritizing a “combination” of the postal code areas identified by both the Ministry of Health and Hamilton’s medical officer of health would be the ideal way to target the most vulnerable residents in the city.

Read more:
Hamilton mayor calls for province to send more vaccine doses to COVID-19 ‘hot spots’

During an interview on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Scott Thompson Show on Friday, Skelly said she’d had conversations with Dr. Elizabeth Richardson about how the hot spots were identified.

“[Dr. Richardson] made it very clear to me that it wasn’t that one formula is necessarily inaccurate. It’s just a different set of criteria that was used to determine hot spots. And I think one of the reasons you saw the focus on the mountain was the outbreak at Grace Villa. And so that kind of skewed the numbers a little higher on the Mountain.”

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At the time, Skelly said the province was working with Hamilton public health to ensure all of the postal codes identified were included in the province’s targeted approach.

As of Wednesday, the provincial portal has not been updated to include the three additional postal codes.

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