Major overhauls required in the event of a pandemic death count as a ‘unique to New Brunswick’ issue

New Brunswick had the highest death rates in Canada in late 2021 and early 2022, according to current Statistics Canada estimates.

But the agency acknowledges that it has struggled with the accuracy of its count of pandemic deaths in New Brunswick and is unsure of the reliability of the province’s shockingly high numbers at this time.

“I would imagine, given past experience, that we should see a revision in these estimates and a downward revision as the estimates become more stable,” said Owen Phillips, senior analyst at the Data Center on Population Health from Statistics Canada.

“This is a unique problem in New Brunswick.

New and revised data released last week by Statistics Canada estimates that 3,915 people died in New Brunswick over 20 weeks, from August 29, 2021 to January 15, 2022. That’s 859 more deaths (28.1%) than normal for this time of year, even after adjusting for recent population growth.

On the face of it, the numbers paint an alarming picture of deaths that have piled up in the province over the past fall and early winter at rates higher than any other province and most states. Americans as the delta variant of COVID-19 has spread across the continent.

The delta variant of COVID-19 has helped trigger a spike in deaths in New Brunswick. Between August 29, 2021 and January 15, 2022, Statistics Canada estimates that 859 more people than normal died, the highest rate among the provinces. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

But three months ago, Statistics Canada also reported that New Brunswick had a summer record of 2,112 deaths over 13 weeks between June and August 2021. That was 279 more than normal for this time of year. , an estimate the agency now says was overestimated by 211. .

All provinces have had initial death estimates from summer 2021 adjusted up and down by Statistics Canada to some degree in recent months, but not by the hundreds like New Brunswick.

The number of deaths between June and August 2021 in Newfoundland and Labrador has been reduced by a total of 5 over the past three months. In Nova Scotia they were lowered by 2 and in Saskatchewan they had to be raised by 24.

Statistics Canada says the need to reduce New Brunswick’s death estimates for the same period by more than 200 is due to poor quality data it initially received from the province, which caused problems with its own modelization.

This graph produced by Statistics Canada shows nine years of deaths in New Brunswick through mid-January 2022. Deaths are well above historical levels by the end of summer 2021 according to current estimates. Previous estimates also detected high death rates in June, July and August, but these have since been revised down. (Statistics Canada)

“Our ability to provide timely and accurate data depends on our ability to obtain timely and accurate data from provinces and territories,” Phillips said.

“In New Brunswick, in an effort to increase the timeliness of their data, they have increased reporting of his most recent deaths, but providing less information. Ultimately, the quality of these adjusted weekly counts still largely depends on the level of completeness. Datas.”

New Brunswick officially recorded 137 deaths from COVID-19 between late August 2021 and early January 2022.

But if 859 more people died than normal during this period, it raises the possibility that other issues may have been more deadly in combination with the pandemic than commonly believed. This would include things like bottlenecks in hospital emergency rooms, shortages of doctors and nurses. low testing rates or prematurely weakened public health protections.

Tara Moriarty, an associate professor and researcher in infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, says understanding the seriousness of all these issues is why provincial death reports need to be fast and accurate during a pandemic and not make the difference. subject to major revisions months after the fact.

Woman wearing a white blouse, smiling.
Tara Moriarty is an infectious disease expert and researcher at the University of Toronto. She said tracking deaths quickly and accurately is key to understanding the scale of a pandemic, but most provinces, including New Brunswick, are assembling that data too slowly. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

“We need faster reports from the provinces. It’s ridiculous that we don’t have this information in Canada when we need it,” she said.

Moriarty thinks the current estimates that New Brunswick suffered a high number of deaths over the fall and winter will hold up better than the summer 2021 estimates and will force the province to find the reasons why. so many people were killed.

“When the excess mortality numbers start to rise like they did in the fall, there’s considerably less doubt at this point,” Moriarty said.