The pandemic has shown the value of a data-literate news media

Independent journalist and author Nora Loreto has been collecting COVID-19 mortality data since around mid-April, 2020. Through daily tracking — scanning media reports and obituaries across the country — the Quebec-based researcher found a staggering number of deaths in residential care early on.

Then, she started gathering data about workplace-related cases, which she describes as a “black hole” in our understanding of COVID-19.

“I think, especially on the workplace piece, that has been … my biggest frustration with public health (bodies), is that we’re just not hearing which workplaces are having outbreaks,” she said, though she credits some provinces, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, for having better information on workplace outbreaks than others.

According to Loreto, this reality has left us with a very murky picture about the dangers of different workplaces.

“We literally do not know what the most deadly industries were,” she said. “We have an idea; through my own research, I can say it was transit and meatpacking. Meatpacking obviously made a lot of headline news, but that’s it.”

The pandemic may be the most significant period for data journalism in history. The now-ubiquitous expression “flattening the curve” is inherently a numerical concept.

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