Daily COVID-19 reports in British Columbia are coming to an end.
B.C. has publicly reported daily COVID-19 information five times a week — except on most weeks where there were statutory holidays — whether it be through statements or daily live updates for well over a year. There was a brief period when live updates occurred six times a week. However, B.C. health officials have hinted at ending daily coronavirus reporting in recent weeks as more and more restrictions loosen.
On Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, confirmed that beginning April 7, the province will end daily COVID-19 reports and move to a weekly reporting system which will change the way cases and deaths are recorded.
“What that means is that we will be able to automatically link data and have more in-depth and detailed accurate reporting of numbers of the previous week to give people a better sense of what we expect to see and what the risk profile is,” she said.
Throughout the pandemic, B.C. has been relying on health authorities to record positive PCR tests through a manual “line list” process. Under the new system, cases will still be reported based on a positive PCR test, but the laboratory data will be automatically linked.
One major change will be how B.C. records and reports coronavirus deaths.
Currently, suspected coronavirus deaths are reported to the health authority, which then investigates them manually to determine and confirm whether COVID-19 was in fact the cause of death.
Under the new method, B.C. will move to an automated system that links lab data with the province’s Vital Statistics Agency, which is responsible for registering deaths in the province, effectively ending the need for a manual investigation.
In addition, B.C. will publicly report all 30-day all-cause mortality in anyone who had a positive COVID-19 test regardless of whether the cause of death was the virus. Deaths will be updated on the BCCDC’s dashboard each Thursday morning.
“That means we will be overcounting people early on because we know it takes several days for the linkage to happen between our lab and Vital Statistics,” explained Henry.
However, once Vital Statistics confirms the cause of death — a process that can sometimes take weeks — the province will retroactively and automatically remove those where the cause was not COVID-19.
“As we get the cause of death data in from vital statistics that will be updated on a rolling basis,” she said. “That gives us a more accurate picture of all-cause impacts from COVID-19.”
B.C. has faced heated and heavy criticism for its reporting methods and handling of coronavirus data during much of the pandemic.
Access to free PCR testing from a health authority — one of the only methods where positive tests are included in the province’s official reporting — is limited to small segments of the population. PCR testing from a private lab is available for a fee, sometimes in excess of $75 per test, and is often included in the province’s official figures. Results from rapid tests, which only became widely available to the public in recent weeks, are not included in any official case count.
Although there is no shortage of data available on the BCCDC’s website, health officials have slowly reduced the amount of real-time data provided to the public, such as eliminating daily reporting of active case counts during the Omicron wave and switching to a “census” reporting of hospitalization figures. Health officials also admitted late last year that recorded and active cases are likely four to five times higher than what was being provided publicly.
Henry said Tuesday that one reason for the change is that during the early Omicron wave, it was difficult to manually “keep up” with all the data coming in.
“It was very challenging to keep up with the daily manual line lists, we see various swings on a day-to-day basis. So, now we have an automated process that allows us to do it on a more accurate and timely basis,” she said.
Although reports will be weekly, Henry told reporters during the question period of Tuesday’s briefing that she will be receiving daily updates.
“We look at those numbers every day and they are preliminary numbers … we get preliminary reports from the lab linkage about how many people have tested positive but there is often duplication in those, so the numbers that come out one day may be over-estimates because the cut off was at 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. or there was a second run, a bunch of things happen on a day to day basis that we can then, once a week, look back and get the more accurate numbers by day. So, that is how it will be reporting coming along but we continue to monitor these things on a day-to-day basis,” she said.