Since the pandemic started last year there have been 128 “officially confirmed” deaths in the Northern Health region of B.C., which includes the Skeena. But that may actually be an undercount of the people who died after getting COVID, argues one of Canada’s leading pandemic researchers.
“It could be that a lot of [uncounted] cases in B.C. were in northern and Northwestern B.C.,” Tara Moriarty, professor of laboratory medicine and pathobiology, and founder of the Moriarty Lab at the University of Toronto, told CTV News this week. “There may not have been the testing capacity that was needed in that region. This is likely true in a number of northern parts of the country as well and it means that we likely missed a lot of cases and deaths.”
Moriarty, who has appeared frequently in Skeena Strong’s “Fighting COVID In The Skeena” virtual events, reached this conclusion after taking a deeper look at mortality data from Statistics Canada.
She compared the number of “observed deaths” in provinces across Canada with the number of “expected deaths” for the same time period. Moriarity removed toxic drug deaths from her calculations, because the amount of people dying from Canada’s opioid epidemic has been rising–including across the Skeena, where overdose calls doubled in Terrace last year.
In doing these calculations, Moriarty determined that in Canada there were 3,000 excess deaths that could be related to COVID but weren’t included in official tallies. Of those deaths, Moriarty counted 1,650 in B.C.
“This likely means that there have been more deaths [from COVID-19] than we know about,” she said.
Moriarty argues that if undercounting did occur it was likely inadvertent. The excess deaths noticed by Moriarty might not have been caused by COVID directly.
“Provincial governments themselves have argued the disparity could be caused by hundreds of ailing people dying at home while avoiding hospitals for fear of the virus,” the Globe & Mail’s Eric Andrew-Gee recently reported.
“Whatever their exact cause, the number of excess deaths shows a country that suffered much more than previously believed.”
The scale of that suffering is hard to comprehend. Moriarty calculates that COVID is the fourth deadliest event in Canadian history, surpassed only by the two World Wars and the 1918 “Spanish Flu”.