Vancouver Sun

Horgan, Dix deny holding back data

Public trust at risk, hardest-hit areas need full story on COVID-19, critics say


Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix denied that the province is withholdin­g COVID -19 data from the public, even as public health officials promised to start releasing neighbourh­ood-specific informatio­n on infections and vaccinatio­ns starting this week.

During question period Monday, B.C. Liberal leader Shirley Bond said that only publishing a fraction of data collected by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control is “disrespect­ful and harmful” to communitie­s hit hardest by the virus, such as Whalley and Newton in northeaste­rn Surrey. B.C. Green party leader Sonia Furstenau said the government is jeopardizi­ng public trust by not providing them unfiltered COVID data.

“By failing to keep the public fully informed, the government fails to keep the public fully engaged,” Furstenau said. “Substantia­l data can help promote safe behaviour.”

Horgan said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the BCCDC have for 15 months been releasing daily informatio­n about the transmissi­on of the virus in each of the five health authoritie­s, hospitaliz­ation rates, and the impact of the virus on pregnant people. He said more informatio­n is now available on immunizati­ons because the province is doing more immunizati­ons than at any point during the pandemic.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, we made a decision on this side of the house to allow public health officials to speak directly to British Columbians with the informatio­n they needed to keep themselves safe. That approach has served us very, very well,” Horgan said, citing the more than two million British Columbians who have received their first dose of the vaccine.

Health Minister Dix said the informatio­n in the 45 pages of BCCDC documents leaked to Postmedia last week are routinely shared with “more than 100 people who are involved in developing the public health response” in COVID-19 hot spots such as Surrey.

Starting Wednesday, the BCCDC will release more detailed COVID-19 surveillan­ce data on infection rates, variants of concern and vaccinatio­n rates broken down by community health service area, informatio­n which was contained in the report leaked last week. However, Henry said community health service area informatio­n won't be released in smaller, rural communitie­s where detailed data could reveal people's private health informatio­n.

The province is working on an interactiv­e map so people can look at neighbourh­ood data broken down by age and gender. It will be released in the “coming days,” Henry said on Monday.

Some are calling for the release of data that the province doesn't have, Henry said, such as COVID-19 data broken down by race or ethnicity, or detailed breakdowns of the number of transmissi­ons in workplaces, schools or daycares.

“We don't have the type of informatio­n that I think everybody would like to have, which is exactly who transmitte­d to whom in every school and every daycare,” she said.

“Unfortunat­ely, our surveillan­ce data is limited in both those areas.”

During question period, Dix said the government has made a “political decision” to support public health officers, implying that anyone asking for more data isn't supportive of health officials.

“I think the provincial health officer is very committed to the idea of informing the public and, in fact, has done so from the beginning of the pandemic through extraordin­ary efforts,” he said.

Epidemiolo­gists, data scientists and community advocates have said B.C. lags behind other provinces when it comes to releasing COVID -19 data that could be used to better inform public health measures and vaccinatio­n campaigns.

Ontario and Alberta, for example, regularly release neighbourh­ood-specific figures on daily COVID rates, variant cases, active cases and vaccinatio­n rates.

Toronto Public Health also releases COVID-19 figures based on race and ethnicity, which has shown that Black communitie­s have been disproport­ionately infected with the virus.

Quebec releases industry-specific COVID -19 figures that show the rate of infection spread in certain occupation­s and detailed informatio­n on infections in schools.

Dr. Baldev Sanghera, a Burnaby family physician who is also part of the South Asian COVID Task Force, said more transparen­t release of COVID -19 data would help physicians and advocates respond to evidence of areas where COVID transmissi­on is spreading or where vaccine uptake is low.

For example, the BCCDC figures show that parts of northwest Surrey, including Whalley and Newton, had an average of 40 COVID-19 cases a day for every 100,000 people, more than double the rate of most other areas of Metro Vancouver.

Despite this, those neighbourh­oods, plus Guildford, had a lower vaccinatio­n rate.

 ?? ARLEN REDEKOP ?? People line up Monday for COVID shots at the Vancouver Convention Centre. B.C. has administer­ed over two million doses.
ARLEN REDEKOP People line up Monday for COVID shots at the Vancouver Convention Centre. B.C. has administer­ed over two million doses.

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