Data error pushed N.B.'s holiday COVID-19 death and case rates to top of list

Dr. Yves Léger, acting chief medical officer of health, suggested New Brunswick's first-place ranking for COVID-19 death rates and COVID case rates was based on two weeks of data being compared to a single week in other jurisdictions. (John Minchillo/Associated Press file photo - image credit)
Dr. Yves Léger, acting chief medical officer of health, suggested New Brunswick's first-place ranking for COVID-19 death rates and COVID case rates was based on two weeks of data being compared to a single week in other jurisdictions. (John Minchillo/Associated Press file photo - image credit)

New Brunswick did not have the highest COVID-19 death rate and cases rate in the country over the holidays, the Public Health Agency of Canada has confirmed, but the province's correct rates and rankings are unknown because the Department of Health lumped two weeks of data together.

Last week, the federal COVID-19 website showed New Brunswick ranked highest among the provinces for COVID-19 deaths and cases per 100,000 population between Dec. 25 and Dec. 31.

On Monday, during a live interview on CBC's Information Morning Fredericton, Dr. Yves Léger, New Brunswick's acting chief medical officer of health, suggested this was incorrect and the province actually ranked fifth-highest.

Léger "misspoke," however, according to the Department of Health.

In fact, New Brunswick ranks fifth for COVID deaths so far this respiratory virus season, which began Aug. 28 — not for the holiday week in question, said department spokesperson Adam Bowie.

He declined to provide New Brunswick's COVID death rate —  or ranking — for Dec. 25 to 31, directing inquiries instead to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

A spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, meanwhile, said it relies on data from each jurisdiction.

Update 'not available'

New Brunswick combined two weeks of COVID-19 data — Dec. 18 to Dec. 31 — in its Jan. 4 COVIDWatch report because of the holidays, Léger said.

"It seems" the federal government used that two weeks worth of data for New Brunswick and compared it to "what most provinces were reporting, which was one week," in compiling the Dec. 25 to Dec. 31 rates, he said.

Government of New Brunswick/Zoom
Government of New Brunswick/Zoom

On Tuesday afternoon, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed the error.

"The two-week metrics for counts of cases and deaths in New Brunswick were displayed as weekly counts and rates," Anna Maddison, a senior media relations adviser, said in an emailed statement.

Usually, when weekly data is not available for cases and rates in a particular province, these metrics are displayed as "not available," said Maddison.

"This has been retrospectively updated to reflect that the weekly data from the two weeks of December 18–31, 2022 were not available from New Brunswick," she said.

Maddison noted "many" jurisdictions had reduced reporting schedules over the holidays. Nova Scotia, for example, also initially only had two-week totals, she said. It subsequently provided a weekly breakdown .

"If a breakdown by week is not available from a province, PHAC is not able to integrate it into its reporting," Maddison said.

CBC requested the breakdown of the province's COVID deaths and cases by week, but Bowie did not provide the data.

Seasonal death rate of 13.6

There have been 110 COVID-19 deaths confirmed in New Brunswick between Aug. 28, the start of the respiratory virus season, which includes other ailments, such as the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and Dec. 31, said Bowie.

That puts the COVID death rate for this respiratory virus season at 13.55 deaths per 100,000 people, "slightly higher" than the national rate of 12.51 per 100,000, he said.

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Dr. Léger "misspoke" when he said the death rate for the week of Dec. 15 was fifth-highest in the country, Bowie said.

"In fact, that ranking would actually be for this current respiratory illness season."

Now ranked 3rd-highest

The federal COVID website has since been updated. It shows New Brunswick now has the third-highest rate of COVID-19 deaths in the country, and the third-highest rate of COVID cases.

New Brunswick's rate of deaths of COVID-19 for the week of Jan. 1 was 1.1 per 100,000, according to the latest figures.

Manitoba had the highest rate at 1.8 per 100,000. The national average was 0.7 per 100,000.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

New Brunswick's rate of COVID-19 cases for that same week was 64 per 100,000.

Nova Scotia ranked highest at 116 per 100,000, while the national average was 42 per 100,000.