Today I asked Minister Dix if he would commit to improving data transparency for COVID-19 moving forward. BC has consistently been one of the least transparent provinces throughout the pandemic – leaving British Columbians to connect the dots themselves on variants of concern & vaccine roll-out.
Consistent, clear, and publicly available data supports government decision-making and helps encourage confidence from the public. Government needs to step up and share their data, explain their decision making process, and bring people along.
My question to the Minister of Health: Will he commit to improving data transparency, moving forward, as a way to rebuild public trust, and can he provide specific examples of how he will improve data transparency? Can the minister please explain exactly what the process is and will be in B.C. for testing variants, whether B.C. will be screening all positives for variants, and how will this data will be shared with the public?
S. Furstenau: For months, we’ve been asking this government about data and asking them to be more transparent with data as a way to ensure that the public understands the reasons behind health orders and recommendations and can also understand what is informing government decision-making.
Today the Toronto Star headline captures this issue rather starkly. “As Whistler launches vaccination push, experts say B.C. has a COVID-19 data problem.” The article points out that B.C. “has generally stood out as a jurisdiction that is particularly poor at data transparency.” In Ontario, data collection is informing vaccine rollout in a more transparent way, with clear communication from government about what is informing their decisions. As Jean-Paul Soucy of COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group points out: “Far from promoting stigma for these neighbourhoods, what it’s done is actually pointed out deficiencies and inequalities. It…drives the conversation around how policy can change…to ameliorate these existing inequalities.”
We’re in a third wave, with variants of concern spreading throughout the province, and decisions about vaccine rollout are shifting, as has happened with Whistler. I have no doubt that data is informing the decisions here. But for the most part, British Columbians are left to connect the dots themselves, and questions are being asked about other regions and neighbourhoods where caseloads are high and decisions aren’t shifting.
My question is to the Minister of Health. Will he commit to improving data transparency, moving forward, as a way to rebuild public trust, and can he provide specific examples of how he will improve data transparency?
Hon. A. Dix: Thank you to the member for her question. The member will know — she refers to variants of concern — that we have done more genomic testing in B.C. than any other jurisdiction in North America. The reason is because, clearly, variants of concern are driving and helping to drive the current third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last Thursday Dr. Henry briefed the media, British Columbians, everyone, at length on this question. There will be a further briefing this Thursday with more detailed information about variants of concern and about where we stand in the pandemic. British Columbia was first to give the public access to its modelling, back in March of 2020, and we are going to continue to inform the public about what the elements are that should inform what they do and what government will do and what vaccination plans will do to deal with this third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
S. Furstenau: I expect part of the reason why B.C. is doing more genomic testing of variants of concern is because we have more variants of concern than almost anywhere else. Let’s consider how B.C. has handled variants of concern.
S. Furstenau: Indeed, it is not.
Unlike other provinces, there was initially a significant lag in reporting on variants of concern, as the faster PCR results were not released, meaning that the variant data was only released after genomic testing. There has been a shift to this.
Last week the provincial health officer announced: “We will no longer routinely genome sequence for confirmation. We’ll just assume that those screened positives will be the variants.” There is confusion around this.
My question is to the Minister of Health. Can the minister please explain exactly what the process is and will be in B.C. for testing variants, whether B.C. will be screening all positives for variants, and how will this data will be shared with the public?
Hon. A. Dix: With respect to the latter, there was a detailed briefing last Thursday. There will be a detailed briefing this Thursday, led by the extraordinary epidemiological team at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and our extraordinary provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. She’ll take the member and all British Columbians through the most up-to-date information about the COVID-19 pandemic, as she has done from the beginning of the pandemic.
The member is quite wrong with respect to genomic testing in B.C. It may make a good line in question period, but that’s not the case. It reflects the commitment of the BCCDC to do everything they can to respond to this pandemic, to provide the information for policy-makers — yes; to provide the information for health practitioners — yes; and to provide information to the public. That will continue to happen, including last week, including up to Thursday, including yesterday and including this Thursday, when the presentation on the new modelling, including detailed information on variants of concern, will be provided.