British Columbia’s new COVID-19 reporting system could miss many youth deaths, scientist says

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British Columbia’s shift to weekly reporting of COVID-19 data also comes with a noticeable change in how deaths are recorded, which an expert says could have counterintuitive consequences.

The new reports include all people who died within 30 days of testing positive for the novel coronavirus, whether or not COVID-19 was confirmed as the underlying cause of death. Previously, each death was reviewed to determine if it was due to the virus.

But while that means anyone who tests positive and then dies in a car crash three weeks later will be counted, for example, that doesn’t necessarily mean COVID-19 numbers will be inflated.

According to Tara Moriarty, associate professor and researcher in infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, many deaths directly caused by COVID-19 will be rather missed, especially among young people who are more likely to be treated longer at the hospital. hospital.

“This reduces the number of younger COVID deaths in particular, because people who might be in intensive care or hospitalized for a long time tend to be younger because they’re more likely to survive longer,” Moriarty said.

Moriarty, co-founder of COVID-19 Resources Canada, has long argued that British Columbia and other provinces are significant underestimation the number of COVID-related deaths.

She said British Columbia is not alone in adopting this new method of counting deaths, but she sees no scientific reason for the change. As she points out, some long-term COVID-19 patients may live for months before dying from the disease, but those deaths will not be included in the new weekly reports.

Useful measures always available

The British Columbia Ministry of Health said new weekly reports report a change in a “case management” approach to the pandemic to a method of “surveillance”, similar to the way infectious diseases like influenza are monitored.

Overall, Moriarty and other researchers who track the data don’t see major problems in moving from reporting numbers every day of the week to doing so every week.

“The problem is when it starts to have very rapid changes, when there’s a wave that’s moving fast,” Moriarty said.

“It’s hard at times like this to know what’s going on.”

Caroline Colijn, COVID-19 modeler and Canada 150 Research Chair in the Department of Mathematics at Simon Fraser University, said the shift to weekly reports could potentially free up resources for public health staff to compile new information for help British Columbia better understand the pandemic.

People are pictured disembarking from a SkyTrain at the station in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, in March 2022. Researchers say members of the public can assess their risk for COVID-19 by following the weekly case trends or test positivity rates. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For members of the public, she recommends looking at the trend lines of cases rather than absolute numbers to gauge whether things are getting better or worse. Even though British Columbia’s testing capacity has been significantly reduced since Omicron arrived in the province, Colijn says it’s helpful to know where the numbers are headed.

“We have always underestimated the number of cases,” she said.

Moriarty said other useful metrics include wastewater test data and test positivity rate.

Provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry said anything above a five percent test positivity rate is an indicator of a more worrying level of transmission.

Right now, rates have started to rise again as the sixth wave looks set to hit, hitting around 7% across the province and up to 17% on Vancouver Island.

“Evolution has not disappeared”

Yet as provinces like British Columbia reduce their reports of COVID-19, some of those most vulnerable to the disease are feeling left out.

Moriarty’s organization holds Public Zoom sessions every Tuesday and Wednesday evening to talk about the latest research of COVID-19 information. She said recently that many elderly and disabled people express deep fear and distrust of health officials.

To fill the data gap, COVID-19 Resources Canada, which receives funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, is developing a tool that would help everyday people assess the risk in their communities.

Moriarty compares it to a wildfire danger chart and said it should be rolled out in the next few days.

Colijn warns that with high levels of the virus still circulating around the world, there’s a good chance a new variant will evolve that could significantly increase everyone’s risk, regardless of the data trend.

“Evolution has not gone away,” she said. “The more viruses you have, the faster the evolution.”

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