British Columbia

Why isn't B.C. sharing the location of COVID-19 patients?

As the number of COVID-19 patients in the province continues to climb, the question on the minds of many British Columbians is whether there are patients in their neighbourhoods and communities, and if so, how many?

Other provinces are providing more precise locations, but Dr. Bonnie Henry says privacy is key

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says "it’s irrelevant what community you’re in" when it comes to COVID-19. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

As the number of COVID-19 patients in the province continues to climb, the question on the minds of many British Columbians is whether there are patients in their neighbourhoods and communities, and if so, how many?

Ontario is reporting the cities where cases have been identified, and Alberta has created an interactive map with that information.

But B.C. is taking a different approach, only providing information about the health authority where patients are located. In some cases, that can mean huge geographic areas — the Northern Health region, for example, covers the entire top half of the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told CBC that her goal in keeping locations imprecise is to protect patients' privacy, and in turn, the province's pandemic response.

"We want people who have symptoms to contact us, and to feel safe contacting us, knowing their privacy will be protected so the steps to protect the health and safety for all can be taken," Henry told CBC in an email.

At Friday's daily briefing, Henry contrasted the province's approach on COVID-19 with last year's measles outbreak when the public was given details about the exact locations visited by infected people.

"Measles can be spread in the air after somebody has left the room. We need to give people an idea of where they might have been in contact with this," Henry said.

But, she explained, "We're not seeing that with this disease."

'It's irrelevant what community you're in'

Henry has also said that she doesn't want anyone, in any part of the province, to feel complacent about the novel coronavirus.

"We're now at the place where it's irrelevant what community you're in. The risk of this virus is everywhere in British Columbia, everywhere in Canada," she said Friday.

That means everyone in every B.C. community should practise social distancing and good hygiene, and take measures to protect seniors and people with underlying conditions.

"Knowing where somebody was two weeks ago, when we detected them, is not what is going to protect you now," Henry said.

A graph from the federal government shows the age distribution of COVID-19 patients in Canada as of March 20. (Government of Canada)

Her warning against complacency also extends to young people who may feel they're immune to COVID-19.

"We've seen that young people are not immune," she said. "People in their 20s and 30s do get pneumonia associated with this virus."

On Friday, the Canadian government released data on the demographics on COVID-19 cases to date. People between the ages of 20 and 39 account for nearly a quarter of patients.

Most people — 54 per cent of cases — were exposed during travel, and 24 per cent contracted the disease in their communities.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

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