Information about the number of COVID-19 cases in Abbotsford and other municipalities poses a danger to the public, the Provincial Health Services Authority says. (Photo: Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News)

Information about the number of COVID-19 cases in Abbotsford and other municipalities poses a danger to the public, the Provincial Health Services Authority says. (Photo: Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News)

More city-level COVID-19 data would jeopardize public health, B.C. provincial health agency says

Agency refuses to release weekly COVID-19 case counts, citing privacy and public health concerns

The health of B.C. residents would be jeopardized if it provided more data about how COVID-19 was affecting individual cities, according to the provincial health agency responsible for the BC Centre for Disease Control.

The mayors of several Fraser Valley municipalities have written the province, saying better city-level data would help municipalities better respond to the pandemic.

But the Provincial Health Services Authority has justified redacting city-specific data in documents released to The News by saying the information could threaten someone’s “safety or mental or physical health” if it was made public. The province also suggests individual’s privacy could be compromised by the release of city-level data – even for those municipalities with hundreds of cases.

Last month, The News filed a freedom of information request more granular data on how COVID-19 is affecting different parts of Abbotsford and the Lower Mainland. Currently, the province only provides daily data on the B.C.’s six provincial health authorities and weekly data on 16 “Health Service Delivery Areas,” most of which span multiple cities and are home to hundreds of thousands of people

The province responded to The News’s request with figures for individual Local Health Areas – which roughly correspond to the boundaries of Abbotsford and hundreds of other B.C. cities and towns. But the information only includes monthly data for August and September. The BC CDC has also released community-level figures for October. But the province has balked at releasing more information about COVID-19, despite pleas by politicians and journalists who have asked for more comprehensive and timely city-level data.

Recently, the mayors of several Lower Mainland municipalities jointly wrote a letter to the province saying better city-level data would help.

“A better understanding of community transmission levels will help us make informed decisions regarding our facilities and the associated safety plans,” they wrote in a letter to Premier John Horgan. “More detailed local COVID-19 data will also guide our decision-making and resource allocation processes while working with local businesses and community organizations as they work to stay safe, open and economically viable.”

The Kootenay East Regional District made a similar plea to Interior Health. That health authority responded that they are following the provincial rules for reporting COVID-19 cases.

“As this is a provincial approach to reporting, I have asked that our Medical health Officers and Epidemiology team raise this issue with their provincial counterparts and colleagues in other health authorities for further discussion,” chief medical health officer Dr. Albert de Villiers wrote.

So far the province has deemed that releasing any more detailed information would jeopardize the health of some people. It hasn’t clarified how, exactly, releasing any municipal information would hurt people.

In the document released to The News, officials redacted the number of cases confirmed in each Local Health Area during two two-week time periods in September and October. Officials cited two sections of British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacty Act for the redactions. The PHSA declared that the redactions were necessary because the release of the figures would “be an unreasonable invasion of a third party’s personal privacy” and/or “would be harmful to a third party’s personal privacy.”

The News has asked the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to review the redactions.

It’s not clear why information cannot be released for at least some of the Local Health Areas. Regular data is already released on a weekly basis for Richmond and Vancouver – the only two municipalities that are also considered Health Service Delivery Areas. The province already releases data regularly for such HSDAs, the size and population of which vary greatly.

While the BC CDC releases data on the number of people in the Northeast health region, where fewer than 80,000 people live, it says privacy and safety concerns prohibit it from providing the same information for Surrey, where more than half-a-million people live.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, updates British Columbians about COVID-19 at a press conference earlier this week. (B.C. Government image)
B.C.’s 1st case of COVID-19 confirmed a year ago today

Here’s a look at some of the key dates in the province’s fight against the novel coronavirus

As indicators of progress on the way to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, five “Big Moves” have been identified through the draft Climate Action Strategy. (Township screengrab)
Plan to fight climate change gets nod from Langley Township council

The plan looks ahead to 2050 and plans for a zero-carbon future

Langley RCMP has twice issued fines to Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)
No action on tax penalty for churches defying COVID orders in Langley Township

Council heard that such a move would be legal, but couldn’t be retroactive

Nancy More has been a brewmaster for more than 30 years and has a scholarship award named after her. (Joshua Peter Grafstein/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
New award to help post-secondary students named for Langley brewmaster

Kwantlen Polytechnic University brewing student first recipient of Nancy More Award

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Grad student Marisa Harrington and her supervisor Lynneth Stuart-Hill say preliminary results from a study into the affects of stress on hospital nurses show an impact on sleep and heart variability. (Courtesy of Marisa Harrington)
University of Victoria study shows stress impact on B.C. nurses

Stress may be impacting sleep, heart health of hospital nurses in Victoria region

Sooke’s Amy McLaughlin holds Theodore, a bunny who will be going to a new owner in Nanaimo within the coming days if all goes will at an upcoming bunny play-date. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Vancouver Island woman looking to hop into bigger space for bunny rescue operation

Amy McLaughlin has rescued more than 400 bunnies, pushing for the capacity to help more

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

BC Place Stadium in a photo posted to cisc-icca.ca.
Roof of BC Place a stage for performers during online music festival

‘This will be the first time any artists have performed from the 204-foot iconic Vancouver rooftop’

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Driver crashes vehicle twice in one day near Princeton

Abbotsford woman, 29, wasn’t injured in either incident

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

Most Read