Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang, at the COVID briefing, Nov. 24, 2021. He's wearing a brown suit and brown patterned tie, speaking worriedly to the crowd, and gesticulating with his hands.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang, at the COVID briefing, Nov. 24, 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

There’s been a months-long degradation of COVID reporting in Nova Scotia.

Through November 2021, the data provided were relatively fulsome, and as a result I was able to produced quite detailed presentation of that data, which included:
• the number of new cases by health zone, age cohort, and gender
• deaths by health zone, age cohort, and gender
• the number of people hospitalized because of COVID, and how many were in ICU
• total number of PCR tests administered at Nova Scotia Health labs, and the positivity rate of those tests
• the daily status of the vaccination program, with the exact number of first and second (and then third) doses administered
• the vaccination status of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths
• a detailed list of COVID exposure sites, including school exposures

When Omicron hit in December, the province stopped reporting the age cohort and vaccination status of new cases. This was somewhat understandable, as the case numbers were so large that the labs were behind on entering that data into the database, but the vaccination status data of hospitalizations and deaths were also not provided, until I made a public issue of it, and the province reversed that decision.

Then, with pressure from Dr. Lisa Barrett, the hospitalization data were expanded to include those in still in hospital after contracting COVID but who were no longer contagious and those who contracted COVID in hospital.

As the wave increased, the province stopped reporting exposure sites. When school started in the new year, school-based cases stopped being reported.

On Jan. 3, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said that he personally was leading a national charge to stop reporting daily case counts:

I brought that issue forward on my last national call, on Thursday. There was lots of support from the other Chief Medical Officers of Health around moving away from the daily case counts, but also doing that in a consistent way in terms of timing and what that looks like. And there was a commitment from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which chairs those meetings, to have this as an ongoing agenda item — we have two calls a week, so I look forward to that conversation unfolding with my colleagues across the country.

The last few weeks have seen record COVID death counts in Nova Scotia, greater even than during the first wave, long before vaccines existed. But the daily COVID reports ended Friday.

To be honest, I was looking forward to the change. I have spent an awful lot of time over the last two years reporting daily COVID numbers, and it seemed a bit much, and besides, a weekly report would allow me to relay the same information to readers while better representing overall trends.

But we didn’t get the same information.

The province issued the first weekly COVID report today. Weirdly, the reports issued on Thursdays will now cover the period from the Wednesday the week before to the previous Tuesday, so it’s dated on arrival, but besides that, it omits data about:
• demographic (age, gender, health zone) of those who have died in the reporting period
• demographics (age, gender, health zone) of those hospitalized (although a median age is provided)
• how many people in hospital who have or had COVID are in ICU
• how many people are still in hospital even though they’re no longer contagious
• how many people contracted the disease in hospital
• demographic data (age, gender, health zone) of new cases
• PCR tests administered at Nova Scotia Health labs, and the positivity rate of those tests
• the exact number of first, second, and third doses of vaccine administered

This might have made sense had COVID been receding into the background, but again: the past few weeks have seen record COVID death counts in Nova Scotia.

Welcome to “living with COVID.”

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. We Nova Scotians lack the intelligence to understand Covid-19 statistics. Publishing death counts and related trivia would just upset us at a time when peace of mind is critical to our fight against the pandemic. Ignorance is our best defence. We should be grateful to the authorities for promoting it. We’ve been repeatedly exposed to information over the past two years and just look how many people died.

  2. With so few tests being completed the reporting is vitually useless. The only stat that used to matter was the positivity percentage, which could be used to estimate the true number of cases out there.

    Seems like the powers that be have determined that the current cases are in such number that the saught after *herd immunity* is upon us. With illness not very severe in most cases the ones that are not are deemed *acceptable* in the quest for some sort of return to *normal*.

    I assure you I will be wearing my mask when I venture out.

  3. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” describes this new policy of under-reporting on Covid-19. It feels like a sophisticated, but largely subliminal, PR campaign to provide people the illusion of the illusive “normal” we all desire. With the data hidden on case numbers, spread, deaths and so much else, governments, public institutions (schools, universities, etc.) and businesses will no longer be pressured to make the expenditures on what “living with Covid” requires: air filtration systems, mandated sick days, high quality N95/N94 masks in congregant settings, widely available, free testing and vaccination campaigns. I am disappointed in Dr. Strang for choosing this “hide the data” strategy rather than outlining the necessary systemic changes actually required to “live with Covid”.

  4. The only other province which has gone to weekly reporting so far is Saskatchewan. I guess the ‘lots of support’ Strang claimed was really just one province. Other provinces also do much better covid dashboards.