A province-wide survey about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on British Columbians has been publicly released and the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) Foundation for Public Health says the data has guided some provincial decisions.
The survey was completed in May 2020, when the curve was flattening and B.C. was seeing some days with less than 10 new confirmed cases.
“B.C.-based data is what we need to inform, guide and strengthen B.C.’s pandemic response as we navigate the second wave of the virus—and the B.C. COVID-19 SPEAK results are already doing that,” said Kristy Kerr, the executive director of the BCCDC Foundation for Public Heath, in a press release.
Funded by the BCCDC Foundation for Public Health, the BC COVID-19 SPEAK survey is the largest health survey ever conducted in the country, with 395,000 respondents. One in 10 adults in B.C. participated in the survey, according to the foundation.
Although the results were released Friday morning in an interactive dashboard, the data has been informing public health decisions since the summer.
“In the middle of emergency, we focus a lot on the goal of COVID-19 and it is very important that we stop, look at how…the pandemic itself and our response is being experienced by people,” said Réka Gustafson, the deputy provincial health officer and vice president of public health and wellness.
Households with children, for example, were more likely to report worsening mental health during the pandemic.
Fifty-one per cent of households with children said their mental health had declined, compared to 45 per cent for the province overall.
In households with declining mental health, 70 per cent reported increased child stress, compared to 59 per cent across B.C.
“One of the important pieces of work throughout the summer was a report we created on the impact of school closures on children and families and these data were used for that,” said Gustafson, adding the report was foundational to informing the decision to support school openings.
“We know they’re critical for the mental health of children, of youth and of families,” she said, and that combined with COVID-19 safety in schools helped them reach their decision to open schools.
Seventy-six per cent of households with children also reported impaired learning for children and 78 per cent said there was less social connection with their friends.
Another example of how this particular data has come into play is in recent province-wide restrictions.
Restrictions are in place for adult and youth team sports, but there are exceptions in place for those under 19 years old.
“There have been specific exceptions to the orders made to make sure that children with young families can still access the programs, the after school care programs and the sporting programs,” Gustafson explained, “And that is a combination of two things – a recognition that young children are not a major driver of COVID-19 but it’s also a recognition of the importance of these kind of interactions for young families.”
Another group that has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic are young people between the ages of 18- and 29-years-old. They’re twice as likely to not be working because of the pandemic, 30 per cent more likely to have difficulty meeting financial needs and 25 per cent more likely to worry about their financial situation getting worse.
Data on the publicly available dashboard with survey results can be sorted by health authority, region, sub-region, and community. It can also be broken down by population groups.
Indicators are divided into seven different categories: Response and prevention, experience, risk and protective factors, healthcare impacts, social impacts, economic impacts and resilience.
An example of an indicator is “mental health worsening,” which falls under the experience category.
The dashboard allows users to compare geographic regions to B.C. overall.
In a press release, the BCCDC Foundation for Public Health noted “all results are weighted by age, sex, education, ethnicity and geography, using the 2016 census. The sample size was 395,000. The margin of error is +/- 0.2% at the B.C. level, +/- 0.8% at Health Authority level, and +/- 1.9% at a regional level.”