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Backlogs, criteria for testing in Canada make official COVID-19 number less accurate, epidemiologist says

Last Updated Apr 2, 2020 at 12:31 pm PST

People walk past a COVID-19 testing area in Burnaby, B.C. Wednesday, April 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Toronto-based epidemiologist admits daily COVID-19 statistics don't really reflect the current outbreak in Canada

Language-use when referring to the number of COVID-19 cases reported is important, expert says

Restrictions on testing and backlogs on those tests are factors to keep in mind when talking about official case numbers

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – While some of us like to think the daily COVID-19 numbers from across the country paint an accurate picture of the current pandemic, an epidemiologist admits they do not.

It’s why the language around cases is important, Dr. Tim Sly, professor emeritus at Ryerson University, tells The Big Story Podcast.

He says a person can test positive, be clinically positive, assumed positive, or presumptive. Restrictions on testing and backlogs on those tests are factors to keep in mind when talking about official case numbers.

“You’re seeing lower numbers and then suddenly, breakthrough, another couple of analysts are coming on board trying to clear the backlog, and suddenly the cases increase,” Dr. Sly explains. “Now, that’s not a real indication of the daily increase at all. It’s just how quickly we’re clearing the backlog.”

He adds while more Canadians have COVID-19 than the official numbers show, it also means the case fatality rate is likely lower than we think.

“The true case fatality is probably much closer to one per cent than it is to the three and a half per cent or two and a half per cent, which is quoted by many of the official figures, including Johns Hopkins and the WHO.”

Canada’s top doctor said on Thursday the reported number of COVID-19 cases surged past 10,000 nationally after the province of Ontario announced an additional 401 people had tested positive for the virus.

Based on the numbers provided by each province, Quebec currently leads the country for the most number of cases of the novel coronavirus with more than 5,500. Ontario follows with more than 2,700 cases, while B.C. has recorded the third highest number of positive COVID-19 tests with more than 1,000.

More than 120 people have died because of COVID-19 in Canada, the government says.