The Government of British Columbia has released its first weekly COVID-19 updatewhich includes a new definition of hospitalizations that could complicate comparisons between past and future waves.
New reports are released every Thursday, with data spanning the previous full week from Sunday to Saturday, making the information several days old by the time it is shared with the public. Previously, the data was published by the Ministry of Health every day of the week.
That delay shouldn’t be a problem for independent researchers at the BC COVID-19 Modeling Group, according to member Dr Sarah Otto, who noted that trends are usually mapped over several weeks.
“Models won’t be so affected as having data by week rather than by day,” she told CTV News.
Otto said she was more concerned about changes in how COVID-19 hospitalizations are counted. According to the first weekly report, hospitalizations now include anyone who was admitted to hospital with COVID-19 or who had “any episode of hospitalization” within 14 days of testing positive, except those which came out the same day.
It’s unclear how different the results will be from the previous counting method, which the province stopped using on April 1 and did not include patients who tested positive within 14 days of an “episode of ‘hospitalization”.
In a Press release, the Department of Health said there will be “likely a one-time increase in the number of cases never admitted to hospital”, as well as an increase in the number of patients never admitted to critical care. CTV News has reached out to the department for clarity on the differences between the two counting systems.
Any significant change in tracking could make it difficult to directly compare the next wave of Omicron infections with the first, Otto said.
“I would really like to see how the number of hospitalizations differs between the old and the new definition, just so that we have an idea of the magnitude of the change coming,” she added.
The weekly reports include the number of new hospital admissions, which was not previously available in the province’s daily updates. There were 193 people admitted in the week ending April 2.
But Otto noted that researchers and the public still do not have access to daily breakdowns of hospital admissions, with the corrections, which the COVID-19 modeling group has requested from the government.
Otto said hospitalization numbers are often corrected after the fact as better information is collected from hospitals, but modelers have never been able to visualize this fixed data.
“If we could get this corrected data on hospital admissions per day, it would make our statistical analysis more powerful. We will be able to better detect trends,” she said.
There were also 1,706 cases and 11 deaths reported in the week ending April 2, although these figures also come with new caveats.
The case count no longer includes people who live outside the province, while the death count now includes anyone who died within 30 days of a positive COVID-19 test, at least until his cause of death can be confirmed by vital statistics, a process that takes about eight weeks.
Critics have criticized the government for reducing the frequency with which information about COVID-19 is made public, especially at a time when Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant is fueling increased transmission and hospitalizations in many places, including British Columbia.
“This government is desperate to maintain its narrative of its handling of this pandemic, and is doing so by limiting testing, surveillance and reporting. They shut down community surveillance at the start of a sixth wave,” the chief of BC Green, Sonia Furstenau. in a statement this week.
“It is not an impossible task for this government to provide clear guidance to the public on the level of risk they find themselves at.”