Data from Statistics Canada and confirmation from the Government of Saskatchewan indicate that the province may have underestimated deaths from COVID-19 in 2021.
It’s the result of a figure known as excess mortality, which occurs when more deaths occur over a period of time than is generally expected.
Data from the federal agency shows that last year, Saskatchewan recorded 11,115 deaths. With only 9,833 deaths expected that year, Saskatchewan experienced 1,288 excess deaths.
Saskatchewan has only had 839 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in 2021.
The province’s health department confirmed in a statement that the province may not have counted all deaths caused by COVID-19.
“There could be some proportion of the excess mortality that could be unreported deaths related to COVID-19,” the province said.
Admission – along with Statistics Canada data – does not mean that all excess deaths can be attributed to COVID-19.
Tara Moriarty, a researcher at the University of Toronto, says at least some of the excess deaths are likely the result of drug overdoses.
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The province said some of the excess deaths in Saskatchewan may be related to the pandemic, including the result of “restrictions on those seeking medical care during the pandemic, changes in care-seeking behaviors, a increase in opioid and drug-related deaths”.
Why is Saskatchewan missing COVID-19 deaths?
Saskatchewan and other provinces in Canada may not be counting deaths related to COVID-19 due to a number of factors.
It often comes down to testing, Moriarty said.
“If someone died of COVID but was never tested, and they looked and smelled and everything like COVID but you didn’t test them when they died, then that wouldn’t be reported as a COVID death,” she said.
“It’s a lot more common than people think.”
The province said it has no estimate of the number of COVID-19 deaths that may not have been recorded and that data is continually being updated, with the record being revised as new news emerges. information is received.
Another factor is how governments test for COVID-19.
In Saskatchewan, the general public does not have access to COVID-19 PCR tests.
Instead, people are encouraged to rely on rapid test results – which can be picked up at locations across the province – to determine if they have COVID-19.
“Saskatchewan has had very little testing for the size of its outbreak. And like other provinces where testing has been very little for the size of its outbreak, such as British Columbia, Saskatchewan has historically…probably missed a lot of his COVID deaths,” Moriarty said.
The Department of Health said that in acute care facilities across Saskatchewan, the majority of residents admitted to hospital will be tested for COVID-19.
“As a result, it is expected that most COVID-19 deaths occurring in the acute care system will be reflected in government death reporting statistics,” the ministry said.
The province said it continually reviews and revises its COVID-19 surveillance efforts and adheres to “best practices in Canada and around the world.”
Tracking down the pandemic
Along with the latest data from Statistics Canada, a CBC News analysis shows the effects of the pandemic on Saskatchewan between 2020 and the end of 2021.
At the start of the pandemic, Saskatchewan was not as affected as other provinces, such as Ontario or Quebec.
Saskatchewan didn’t record its first COVID-19-related deaths until March 30, 2020, and it didn’t top 100 until December 16, 2020.
However, after that, deaths quickly accelerated through 2021.
The purple line in the graph tracks the number of new COVID-19 deaths reported in a week, according to the Saskatchewan government’s tally. The orange line shows the estimated excess mortality.
In 2021, some of the peaks in the two lines match each other.
The number of COVID-19 deaths recorded throughout January 2021 – the second deadliest month of the pandemic in Saskatchewan – almost matches the number of estimated excess deaths.
In the two years between January 1, 2020 and January 1, 2022, Saskatchewan reported 955 deaths confirmed to be caused by COVID-19.
The estimated excess mortality over the same period was 1,809, according to Statistics Canada.