An analysis of excess deaths during COVID
An analysis of excess deaths in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic shows great variation by province and highlights the need for better and consistent data for current and future management of health crises. The article is published in CMAJ (Journal of the Canadian Medical Association) https://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.220337.
Excess deaths (obtained from Statistics Canada) are the difference between the actual number of reported deaths and the expected number. Using publicly available data, the analysis looked at deaths in Canadian provinces from March 2020 to October 2021 to explore excess deaths overall and those related to COVID-19 prior to the Omicron wave. Death rates varied widely, with the COVID-19 death rate highest in Quebec and lowest in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Ontario is the province where excess deaths and COVID-19 related deaths have risen and fallen most narrowly. British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan all had higher overall excess mortality than the other provinces. In British Columbia, there was a spike in deaths due to the excessive heat wave in the summer of 2021.
There are several possible explanations for this wide variability in death rates during the pandemic. Some examples are provincial differences and limitations in COVID-19 testing, cause-of-death reporting practices, and different public health measures such as business and school closures, mask and other public health events.
“Confidence in the accuracy of COVID-19 death data is essential to understanding different provincial experiences of the pandemic and to distinguishing whether provinces had a ‘COVID-19 problem,’ a broader mortality problem. or both,” writes Dr. Kim McGrail. , School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Deaths from illicit drugs, which worsened during the pandemic, and the heat wave in British Columbia contributed to an excess number of deaths, although the pandemic may have also contributed.
“Human Rights Watch concluded that an inadequate policy response contributed to heat-related deaths in British Columbia, and that these deaths were strongly associated with social and material deprivation, which may have been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. 19,” writes Dr. McGrail. “Pandemic policies and border closures likely also contributed to an unsafe drug supply, more people using alone, and other social factors that contributed to higher rates of opioid-related deaths. “
Pandemic control measures are also known to have reduced the number of deaths. Other studies have reported fewer motor vehicle accidents and a large reduction in flu-related deaths.
The author calls for collaboration among Canada’s health care systems, with consistent terms and definitions to enable faster reporting of deaths and better data on overall health.
“This collective assessment and learning is essential to ensure preparedness for another SARS-CoV-2 variant, another weather event, or an entirely new health threat. It will take the collective efforts of all stakeholders, including the public, to be ready and willing to respond to the next crisis. Conversations that support this preparation should start now,” insists Dr. McGrail.
Canadian Medical Association Journal
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Excess mortality, COVID-19 and health care systems in Canada
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