No timeline for sector-specific COVID-19 transmission data to be released in Alberta

Green and blue coronavirus cells under magnification intertwined with DNA cell structure. File / Global News

More than five months after Alberta Health said sector-specific transmission data of COVID-19 would be made available, it is still not clear when that information will be shared with Albertans.

The transmission data would detail where COVID-19 spread has been happening in the province, which doctors say is important for Albertans to know.

On Thursday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the analytics teams have been working on multiple fronts, such as providing up-to-date, local immunization data to the vaccination program as well as doing work on the third wave of the pandemic.

“As our analytics team is a limited group of people. They’re doing a lot of work every day, some of the reports we had been working on preparing for public release has slowed down a little bit — one of those is, unfortunately, that sector-specific report,” Hinshaw said.

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She then noted that when there is extremely high transmission, any time an individual is in close contact with another person, especially indoors, there is a high chance of spread across all sectors.

Hinshaw said there is not one specific sector contributing to spread, which is why widespread measures are needed to drive down transmission.

However, a health policy expert said there could be a few reasons why the province is not openly sharing the data.

Lorian Hardcastle with the University of Calgary said there could be a lack of contact tracing data, which would lead to incomplete sector-specific data.

“The other thing is maybe there has to be at least some level of concern that there are things they don’t want people to see. One doesn’t like to think the government is being intentionally not transparent or is intentionally withholding info,” she said.

“But at this point, where there have been multiple requests for information, it has to at least be a possibility they are intentionally not releasing data because there are things in that data that would tend to undermine some of the decisions they’ve made or some of the decisions they plan to make.”

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Hardcastle, who is a professor in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law and cross-appointed to the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, said many of the public health measures limit individual rights, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, and the law demands that there be evidence if those rights are going to be limited.

“In some ways, the restrictions hinge on having good evidence and on making an effort to collect evidence and use evidence,” she said.

“Both from a from legal perspective, but also from a legitimacy perspective, the public is more likely to perceive your rules as legitimate and follow them if there’s a clear evidentiary basis. At times that’s been lacking in Alberta — why particular things are closed but not others.”

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Doctors have also been calling for this information to be released, saying it can be a prudent reminder of the risks in the community. But they also that without data, people operate on anecdotes during the pandemic.

“I may have gone to a restaurant and I didn’t get COVID, therefore… restaurants don’t have COVID, or gyms or whatever it might be,” Dr. Neeja Bakshi, who works in the COVID Unit at the Royal Alexndra Hospital, said on March 26.

“It very well might be that those places don’t have high transmission, but until Albertans can see that, they’re going to assume it’s OK to do those things because the restrictions are lifted to allow those things”

On Nov. 15, 2020, information on viral spread was shared with Albertans indicating:

  • 40 per cent of cases were linked to household/social gatherings or a private event
  • 10 per cent of infections were linked to continuing care
  • Four per cent of new cases linked childcare of K-12 schools
  • Three per cent were linked to acute care outbreaks
  • 30 per cent of cases had an source unknown

On March 1, 2021, the following information was shared with Albertans:

  • 40 per cent of cases were linked to household spread
  • One per cent of new infections were linked to retail or restaurants
  • 30 per cent of new cases had no known source
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