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Amid leaked data, B.C. expert notes pros, cons of making COVID-19 info public

FILE -- Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at a lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

It appears B.C. has more COVID-19 data than it's been sharing, according to documents leaked to the Vancouver Sun

Expert says there's an argument to be made to make more detailed COVID-19 information public

Infectious diseases modeller says there are some downsides to providing neighbourhood-specific data

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – We’re finally getting a better sense of how prevalent COVID-19 cases are in B.C.’s communities, and it’s only because of leaked documents from the BC Centre for Disease Control.

A pair of internal reports, each over 45 pages long, obtained by the Vancouver Sun show data for the last week of April.

They reveal, among other things, details of COVID-19 case counts and vaccinations at the neighbourhood level, as well as breakdowns about variants of concern.

The data shows more precisely the areas within Fraser Health that saw the highest rate of new infections, and that of all positive test samples, about 78 per cent were presumed to be a variant of concern.

Reporters and researchers have been asking for this kind of information for months, data that is easily accessible in some other provinces.

Dr. Caroline Colijn, an infectious disease modeller at Simon Fraser University, says there’s an argument to be made to make this kind of data public.

“So if I see that rates are high in my neighbourhood, or positivity is high in my neighbourhood, I might actually use that information to decide not to go somewhere, and that’s great,” she told NEWS 1130.

She says in addition to helping people make personal choices, the information can also help the public understand certain decisions, like restrictions.

“If, for example, we know how many cases were likely linked to indoor dining, people might be happy to understand why we’re closing indoor dining,” Colijn explained.

“Some of these data are complicated, like the variants situation. I think it’s complicated because of what can be screened, and what can be sequenced, and what’s growing … so having a lot of people thinking about those data can be helpful just for understanding them better, because no one person has all of the expertise to understand all of COVID. So the more data can be shared with the scientific community, the more heads you have thinking about it, and the more high-quality analyses and understandings you might be able to generate,” she added.

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Pointing to places like Ontario, Colijn says there have been benefits such as a better understanding of how COVID-19 has impacted certain demographics. Data has also shown areas where people have been less likely to get vaccinated, for example.

However, she admits there are some downsides.

For example, there could be complacency from people who see they don’t live in a hot spot.

“It is a changing picture,” she said.

The province has previously said that it didn’t want to stigmatize certain neighbourhoods or populations. Colijn notes there could also be difficulties in distinguishing between where people live and they work, and that transmission could be happening in the latter, but reflected in numbers based on someone’s residence.

While she would like to see more information shared, Colijn understands there are also privacy concerns that need to be taken into consideration.

-With files from Renee Bernard