British Columbia

One of B.C.'s biggest health regions hasn't been releasing COVID-19 recoveries for a week

Recoveries from COVID-19 in the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region have been stuck at 473 since April 8. 

It means the province's 'active cases' are likely lower than reported, but there's no explanation for the gap

The B.C. government's new online COVID-19 tracker lists the purported number of recoveries in the province, but omits the fact that Vancouver Coastal Health has stopped publicly tracking them as of April 8. (Provincial Services Health Authority)

In the last week, the B.C. government has continued to announce provincewide recoveries from COVID-19 — while quietly hiding the fact that data from the province's health authority with the most cases is no longer being included. 

Recoveries from COVID-19 in the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region have been stuck at 473 since April 8. 

However, VCH — which oversees cases in Vancouver, Richmond, the North Shore and parts of the province's Central Coast — is still continuing to report new cases and deaths. 

As a result, the total number of active confirmed cases in the province is likely significantly lower than has been reported.   

The disclosure is made in a small footnote on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's daily situation report, posted online most days around 5 p.m. 

It has not been mentioned in the government's own daily news releases, or news conferences by chief health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

A day after asking the provincial government and VCH why data on recoveries wasn't being published and why they didn't announce in a more public fashion that the data was no longer accurate, VCH responded by saying it was "due to a change in the definition for recovered" and that the data would soon be provided.

The answer came on the same day VCH reported zero new COVID-19 cases in its jurisdiction, despite the fact the government's own release said there were new outbreaks in care homes in its area.  

On Friday, the government announced those new outbreaks didn't actually happen though, and that it was an error in reporting. Henry admitted "it was a series of confusing messages," but said she wasn't concerned about VCH's reporting abilities going forward.

"It's a large complicated system, and we had some challenges with some of the data. Things were being called different things by different people.

"It's a reflection of how we're putting the numbers together, but certainly I have full confidence that VCH … is actively following up on all cases."

Does it matter?

Henry had previously said the province considers a COVID-19 patient recovered if they have had two negative tests 24 hours apart if hospitalized or immune compromised or been symptom-free for 10 days, if neither of those conditions apply. VCH now says recovered cases will only include people "who have been formally discharged by public health as part of its follow-up with patients."

But the reason why VCH went more than a week without being able to report any new recovery data is unknown. B.C.'s health-care information systems are complex, with many different pieces of software used, so the reason for the lack of reporting could be due to any number of factors.  

"It depends on how hospitals and health-care systems keep track of patients. It also depends on patients who are not hospitalized. And it's difficult to track these patients," said Junling Ma, a mathematics professor at the University of Victoria who specializes in the spread of infectious diseases.

He said that at this point, a lack of data around recoveries in VCH isn't overly concerning.

"If the health-care system is overwhelmed, the number of recovered people is important, because it tells us the capacity of hospitals to handle these patients," he said.

"But ... we still have a lot of capacity to handle patients. That means  keeping track of recoveries may not be very important for the health-care system at this time." 

Daniel Coombs, a UBC mathematics professor who has been working with the provincial government in developing its projections for the outbreak, said the more important metric is hospitalizations — which VCH continues to provide, and which have remained flat across the province. 

"The numbers of cases only counts lab-confirmed cases, and since we know that people are advised to stay home if they have mild symptoms, the case number is an underestimate," he said. 

"However, it is still useful information as long as the guidelines around who gets tested do not change substantially."

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