The province came out with two reports on COVID-19 last week. Wednesday brought us the monthly Epidemiological Summary for February, followed on Thursday by the weekly report for March 7 to 13. As has been the case for a year now, the media cooperated with the government’s news management strategy. The ever-growing death count was treated in ho-hum fashion.
Although Thursday’s weekly update added seven more fatalities, bringing reported COVID deaths to over 800, those deaths occurred sometime before the March 7-13 “reporting period.” The result was a headline on the ATV website announcing that “NS reports no new COVID-19 deaths in current reporting period, slight decrease in hospitalizations.” The best spin doctor in the world be hard pressed to achieve a headline that better suppressed bad news.
As for the monthly Epidemiological Summary that came out on Wednesday, it disclosed 15 deaths in February from COVID. This news rated just a single column headline in the Chronicle-Herald. The brief article failed to report that buried in the the same report was a table showing that deaths in January totalled 53, nearly twice the 27 fatalities acknowledged by the monthly Epidemiological Summary for January 2023. So deaths in January were understated by nearly 100 per cent in the summary report for that month. But thanks to unhelpful reporting, you need to ferret that out yourself.
That lazy, nothing-happening-here approach to routine COVID death counts extends to the ongoing lack of context for the information released by the government and routinely reported in the media. Back in “stay the blazes home” days before the PCs took office there was a lot of comparing Nova Scotia’s COVID numbers with the rest of Canada – and even the world. People with connections to Northwood would not agree, but there was some self-congratulation in touting our case and death counts that were much lower than most other places. That may even have helped drive up intra-provincial immigration and real estate prices.
Comparisons have become scarce as the death count has risen. There are probably good epidemiological reasons not to put too much stock in comparisons between Nova Scotia’s numbers before and after the onset of Omicron. Pre-Omicron the numbers were very low, so the impact of that new variant, even if no worse here than elsewhere, would cause a much greater percentage increase. So highlighting increases – such as a 400 percent jump in deaths during the first six months of 2022 – could be seen as alarmist.
However, the Epidemiological Summary released this week provides an opportunity for some perspective on Nova Scotia’s record while living (and dying) with COVID-19. The Summary reports that, including the 68 deaths reported so far in January and February, 315 Nova Scotians have died from the disease between July 1, 2022 and February 28, 2023. Inquiring minds may want to know how that compares with the rest of the country, or the rest of the world?
Ironically, it’s easier to get an answer to the latter than the former. Worldometer’s Coronavirus Tracker makes it possible to compare Nova Scotia’s 315 Covid deaths from July 1 to February 28 with the results in other countries. The good/bad news is, we are World Class in that regard. The 315 deaths over the eight-month period is a higher than Canada’s national rate and the rate in two other G7 countries – the United States and France.
COVID Deaths per 100,000 pop. Nova Scotia and G7 countries July 1,2022-Feb. 28,2023
Source: Worldometer Coronavirus Tracker
As the table shows, based on the numbers reported last week Nova Scotia’s rate of 30.9/100,000 is significantly higher than Canada’s national rate of 24.4. As for how Nova Scotia compares with other provinces, details are not as easy to find.
Because provincial reporting has become intermittent over the last year I could find no data set covering the exact eight-month period from July 1 to February 28. However, the federal government’s Health Infobase has published numbers for June 25, 2022 and March 4, 2023. A comparison of death counts for those dates show an even larger gap between Nova Scotia and the national rate.
Deaths and deaths per 100,000 pop. NS and selected Provinces June 25,2022-March 4, 2023
|Province||June 25||March 4||Increase||Increase/100,000|
|Canada (minus BC)||38,073||46,393||8,320||24.40|
British Columbia has been left out of the calculation because, according to the Health Infobase, the province changed its criterion for reporting COVID deaths, meaning that results for British Columbia are over-stated relative to other jurisdictions. As the table shows, according to Infobase data between June 25 and March 4 here were 384 COVID deaths in Nova Scotia, the third highest rate in the country. Only Saskatchewan and New Brunswick were higher. And we’re dealing only with reported deaths.
As the CBC’s Richard Woodbury reported recently Statistics Canada has calculated that there were 848 more deaths than expected in Nova Scotia during the first the first ten months of 2022. Five hundred forty six of the deaths were due to COVID-19, leaving over 300 more excess deaths from unknown causes.There is no evidence those excess deaths are connected directly or indirectly to COVID-19. However, there is one source that indicates that 300 could be understated.
The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington has been a consistent source of pessimism about the death toll from COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. The latest projection from the Gates Foundation-backed institute shows that by April 1 Canada’s total deaths from the pandemic will exceed reported deaths by about 45 per cent. For Nova Scotia, the projection is even more dire – 2,400 deaths by April 1, 165 per cent higher than reported. https://covid19.healthdata.org/canada/nova-scotia
Maybe it’s not worth local media’s time to follow that up with the IHME doomsayers. But as well as being consistently downbeat, the IHME has also been steadfast in advocating the wearing of masks. Although growing fainter over time, that has also been the refrain of our own public health officials. More Nova Scotians would be considering that advice if the government and its enablers in the media paid more attention to the death toll from the pandemic – reported or unreported.