In Question Period, I asked the premier why the NDP government has not made the collection of race-based COVID-19 infection data a priority in their response to the pandemic. We know that race, income, living conditions, access to medical care and work environment are important determinants of health. In order to build a more equitable future for British Columbia, the government must make decisions informed by race-based data.
S. Furstenau: In the last year, nearly 80,000 British Columbians have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 1,300 of them have died from the virus. We know their age and their gender. Those who have died have been predominantly seniors, more of them men than women, but beyond that, we know little else about them.
Their race, income, living conditions, access to medical care and work environment are all relevant and important factors not just because they provide more information about the patient but because each of these elements can be deeply impacted by government policy. Yet of the 12 determinants of health as defined by the Canadian government, this government is only collecting COVID data about gender.
As the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner has stated repeatedly, the COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating existing injustices, making it all the more “critical that the government of B.C. collect and analyze disaggregated data to identify inequalities and advance human rights in this province.”
My question is to the Premier. Can the Premier explain why his government has not made COVID data collection in order to understand and support the needs of diverse British Columbians a priority?
Mr. Speaker: Minister of Health
Hon. A. Dix: Well, the answer is that we have — every case, every single case. The member referred to the more than 1,300 people who have passed away. The member referred to the cases of COVID-19. These are analyzed on a systematic basis and on an individual basis. Contact tracing occurs for all individuals. We focus on the cases and respond to it.
You see this in our immunization plan, which is focused, in particular, on a number of groups. People in long-term care who represent the majority of people who have passed away, tragically, from COVID-19 in B.C — that has been a priority.
You see that in health policy: 95 percent of residents and 90 — I think a number higher than that — in terms of staff, more than 70,000 people and essential visitors. That reflects the data and our focus, which I think is unmatched in Canada, on supporting Indigenous communities, on supporting people living in congregate living and circumstances, of using what we know about the pandemic to focus our vaccination campaigns. All that is a demonstration of our determination to do that.
I would agree with the member that we need, as a society and as a government, to do a better job of analyzing and developing and presenting racialized data. That is a commitment of the government and one that we will continue to proceed with in the months to come.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
S. Furstenau: I appreciate the minister’s response. However, the data collection beyond age and gender hasn’t really been made public or been used to explain how the government is informing their decisions. There is an important exception, however. B.C. does collect more health data on the experiences of Indigenous British Columbians. During the pandemic, that data has helped us make vital policy decisions, as outlined in today’s vaccine rollout briefing.
Because the Ministry of Health has information that indicates that Indigenous people face a disproportionate risk from COVID-19, both in terms of illness and fatalities, they were able to change the vaccine rollout strategy to reflect that, saving precious lives in the process.
What I remain worried about, however, are the people who are being missed. As a U.S. director of public health told the New York Times in December: “When I look at my data, the average age of death from COVID for a white person is 81, but for a Latinx it’s 67 and for a Black person it’s 72.” This has massive implications when designing an age-based vaccine rollout. Is the situation different in our province? Probably, but without the data, we don’t fully know, and that’s a big gamble to take.
My question is again to the Premier. Why is this government limiting our province’s ability to respond to this pandemic and to build a more equitable future for B.C. by not collecting this disaggregated race-based data?
Hon. A. Dix: First of all, I would say, with respect to Indigenous people, First Nations people, across B.C., it’s been at the heart of our response, not since the vaccination campaign began, but from the beginning of the pandemic — from January 2020 on, in fact. The First Nations Health Authority has been involved at every level, at all times.
We have worked, I think, closely with Indigenous groups across the province, not just First Nations, but, of course, Métis and Inuit groups as well. I think we’ve had some real success there by focusing in on the problem, working together and recognizing the vulnerability of groups — especially in rural and remote communities, but also in urban communities — and working together to address that.
I think we’ve systematically been doing that, and you see that reflected in our vaccination campaign as well. We’ve used the tools that we have because we understand, and everybody understands, that those most vulnerable from COVID-19 are also most vulnerable for all other conditions, such as diabetes and others. So we have taken steps consistently in our testing programs, in our vaccination programs, in our programs across the board to address those issues. I think the efforts by public health in this regard have been excellent. They can always improve. They can improve, they will improve, and they must improve.
I appreciate the comments of the hon. member. She’ll know, because we’ve talked about this on a number of occasions — and she’s made this case to me personally, repeatedly during the pandemic — that we’re continuing to work and improve our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly to the vulnerable.