Getting data from Interior Health is never easy, even during a pandemic.
For example, although the province updates their data on vaccination and immunization rates every three months, it’s always a struggle getting those numbers. The same difficulty goes for drug overdoses.
The usual response? Privacy concerns.
I have no idea how getting numbers on the vaccination rates or overdoses could intrude on someone’s privacy. I’m a journalist in Revelstoke, where there are roughly 1,000 students enrolled. If I learned the vaccination rate is low, I still would not be able to identify which children have been immunized.
It would just provide another picture of the community’s health and risks for disease.
I was able to get immunization rates once for Revelstoke (which by the way is substantially below the provincial average), but that was probably only because they came up at a school board meeting. Usually, such data is kept secret, like a country’s nuclear program.
Even during a public health crisis, provincial emergency and pandemic, Interior Health will not release data on which communities have COVID-19, unless there is a pressing health need. Once again, the agency cites privacy concerns.
Regardless, I think the public has a right to know.
If it wasn’t for local heliskiing businesses and the medical clinic, who have contacted the media and posted online that COVID-19 is in the community, Revelstoke would have no idea officially if the virus was here or not.
Sure, there would be whispers, gossip and he-said-she-said, but nothing definite.
In a vacuum of missing information, rumours fly.
Earlier this month, I interviewed B.C. Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson. He came to Revelstoke to provide information to local stakeholders about the ongoing caribou plans.
Last month, the provincial and federal government unveiled an agreement to add two million acres to protected areas in northern B.C. to help the endangered animal. However, the negotiations were largely behind closed doors, allowing people’s fears to flourish and multiply. People thought the worst — i.e. large closures that would impact industry and recreation.
Donaldson said the Revelstoke caribou plans will not largely impact either, and the planning process will be transparent.
“If the information isn’t out there on how the process will unfold and who will be involved, then people start to fill in and sometimes they fill in with the worst-case scenario,” said Donaldson at the time.
Alberta, compared to B.C., is releasing which communities have COVID-19 and to what extent. I can look at an interactive map of the province and see there is one case in my hometown of Jasper, which is different from last week when there were two.
Jasper is half the size of Revelstoke and similarly, everyone knows everyone. Yet, I have no idea who the one confirmed case could be. There are roughly 5,000 people to chose from and the government does not provide data on the case’s sex or age.
An Alberta Health spokesperson said the map is a way to balance patient confidentiality with transparency.
On the other hand, B.C. is only releasing data for regions, such as the Interior, which covers 215,000 square kilometres, roughly twice the size of South Korea.
One pillar of democracy is freedom of information. When the government has ordered shops to close (causing great economic harm) and people to stay home, the public has a right to know why.
Trust is a two-way street.