B.C. health officials are defending their approach to data transparency, while simultaneously pledging to release more detailed COVID-19 data in the coming weeks.
The comments came at a hastily-scheduled Friday teleconference, in the wake of a Vancouver Sun report, detailing leaked reports from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control containing detailed data not available to the public.
“We do release almost all of that information that were in some the reports that were posted it comes out in various different forms,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
“We are releasing more than what other provinces are reporting.”
The leaked reports included several key COVID-19 metrics that have not, to date, been made publicly available — including detailed neighbourhood-level data on infection rates and figures on vaccinations by region and age group.
Other jurisdictions such as Toronto make some of this information available on an updated daily basis.
The information that B.C. does release comes in the form of monthly modelling presentations and weekly surveillance reports, which detail data that is already 10 days old. The most recent report, published May 5, details the period of April 18 to April 24.
Geographic data is released weekly, with local health areas — some of which contain multiple communities — being the greatest level of detail.
Henry and deputy provincial health officer Dr. Reka Gustafson sought to stress that the primary purpose of surveillance data was to inform public health decision-making, but said their goal remained public transparency.
Gustafson added the data in the leaked reports amounted to a “draft” that required feedback from health-care partners before it was ready to present.
“There’s a process that it goes through before it’s meaningful,” she said. “There’s a context that it’s put in before it’s released publicly.”
Some of the data regarding vaccinations has only become available when the province’s vaccine registration website came online, they said.
Neighbourhood-level data, in the past, was withheld out of concerns for privacy — which have diminished as the case count has grown, they said.
Despite this, both pledged to make some of the additional data, including neighbourhood-level reporting, available to the public.
“One of the things we’re working on right now is that combination of of neighbourhood-level case and immunization rate, that’s our goal in the coming weeks,” Gustafson said.
“What I can commit to is that every single day we’re looking at making it better and making it more accessible and in particular making it more user friendly.”