National data standards in the works after COVID-19 highlighted info gaps: Hajdu

National data standards in the works after COVID-19 highlighted info gaps: Hajdu

OTTAWA — As Canadians see COVID-19 restrictions lifting, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says she believes the country is better prepared for a second wave of the novel coronavirus thanks to some difficult lessons learned over the last four months.

That includes efforts to improve the “fractured” way in which health data is collected by the provinces and territories, and how difficult it can be to have it reported to the federal level, Hajdu told a Senate committee Friday.

More detailed data is needed to track how vulnerable certain populations are to the novel coronavirus and where to focus efforts on testing, tracing and other supports, she said.

“That has been a weakness for us all along is our ability to actually understand what’s happening nationally,” Hajdu said.

That’s why federal officials are working on national standards for health data collection — and ensuring information is shared quickly with Ottawa — as part of ongoing negotiations with the provinces over $14 billion in new federal COVID-19 transfers.

When the COVID-19 outbreak first began, federal public health officials encountered roadblocks getting even basic epidemiological data from other jurisdictions to get a national picture of transmission rates, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told the committee.

She said this basic data is now coming more quickly, but officials are working on getting more detailed information about specific populations.

Raced-based data, including whether those being tested for COVID-19 have self-identified as First Nations, Inuit or Metis, has not been available at the federal level in part because not all jurisdictions have been collecting that information.

This is an area public health officials are now ”working very hard on,” Tam said.

“You may have seen some jurisdictions at the local level, such as Toronto, that are now collecting this data, which we hope to obtain,” she said.

“We are also engaging various partners to undertake specialized surveys and enhanced surveillance activities among key populations of interest, some of which are the racialized communities.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada has also partnered with Statistics Canada on a “ethno-cultural data dashboard” that Tam says will be released soon.

But some of the information still needed to better understand the impact of the virus on different communities cannot be obtained through surveys and surveillance, Tam added, which is why the agency is also working with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to co-ordinate academic research activities to further address the current data gaps.

Hajdu and Tam also reflected on the major learning curve for federal officials in trying to procure personal protective equipment at a time of a global surge in demand.

The national strategic stockpile of medical supplies was never meant to house mountains of personal protective equipment, Hajdu said, and provinces are responsible for maintaining their own stockpiles.

When it became clear a bulk procurement order would be needed to address shortages across the country, federal officials ran into roadblocks trying to get the information they needed from provinces and territories about exactly how much they might need.

“It took several government departments working with numerous provincial representatives to try and figure out the actual requirements, the rate of use and now, planning forward in a world that is still somewhat precarious in terms of ingredients and supply,” Tam said.

Finally, the federal government simply went ahead with a procurement order ”making some best estimates and assumptions about what we would likely need as a nation,” Hajdu said.

“Don’t forget that the crisis started in China and, incidentally, that is where a lot of the equipment is created, so of course this double whammy of having a crisis in a country where, in many ways, it is the largest provider of PPE for the world, created a really tight supply chain that trickled and rippled through the world,” Hajdu added.

Canada has since been ramping up its domestic manufacturing of personal protective equipment, testing agents and medical supplies to limit the country’s vulnerability to disrupted global supply chains in the case of future outbreaks.

“We are dramatically readier than we were during the outbreak because we have developed much stronger relationships with provinces, territories and local governments to make sure that we can act quickly when there is an outbreak,” Hajdu said.

Chief medical health offices across the country are now actively preparing for the possibility of a resurgence of the virus in the fall or winter, or perhaps even sooner.

This work also includes preparations to deal with the potential for simultaneous outbreaks of both COVID-19 and influenza, Tam said.

“We’re singularly focused right now in trying to do everything we can to prepare for any resurgence.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2020.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sylvan Lake Wranglers. File Photo
Sylvan Lake Wranglers ready for shorten hockey season

The HJHL will have a 20 game season, playing four games in a cohort and then going dark for 14 days

Decorate your vehicle for display at the second annual Trunk or Treat on Oct. 31 . (Blakc Press File Photo)
Sylvan Lake church to host a socially distanced Trunk or Treat on Halloween

Goblins and ghouls can go around to vehicles for their tricks or treats at the Alliance Church

Front-line hospital workers have walked off the job at the Rimbey Hospital, and across the province. Photo Submitted
Front-line health care workers on strike across the province, including Rimbey Hospital

The strike is due to cut of 11,000 health care jobs in the province, according to AUPE

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. The Alberta government is hoping to get more Albertans employed by moving to limit the number and type of temporary foreign workers it allows into the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta to limit temporary foreign worker program to save jobs for Albertans

Temporary foreign workers already in the province won’t be affected

(Emily Jaycox/Bashaw Star)
Wreath laying ceremony held in Manfred, Alta.

Ceremony marks 64th anniversary of Hungarian revolution, honours settlers

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Most Read