New Brunswick ‘sees no need’ to release COVID-19 modeling, despite predicted surge
The New Brunswick government refuses to release its latest projections on COVID-19.
But an immunologist predicts « a bigger increase than ever ».
And a behavioral scientist warns that the lack of public data creates « a false sense of security ».
Department of Health officials have said repeatedly over the past few months that they expect « COVID activity » to increase later this fall and into the winter.
But when asked what the province’s modeling shows for deaths, hospitalizations and cases, Dr Yves Léger, the province’s acting chief medical officer of health, replied: ‘We don’t have any specific modeling based on that. »
« At this point, you know, I think the big message is really that we expect to see increases, and that’s what people need to plan for.
« So it’s important that the public stay informed and aware of the COVID activity that’s unfolding. »
And up to date on vaccines and boosters, he said.
When asked if the province still does modelling, and if not, why not, Leger replied that “it gives an idea…but it’s not always accurate”.
« We certainly don’t want people to put too much emphasis on that. »
In a follow-up email, Department of Health spokesman Adam Bowie said the department is “continuously monitoring COVID-19 activity” in the province to assess risk, “and some of that monitoring involves modelling”.
« If a specific trend or area of concern emerged from these modeling exercises, the department would share that information publicly. »
Bowie did not respond to a request for examples of what might represent « a specific trend or area of concern. »
He also did not respond to questions about the time period covered by the latest modeling.
At this time, the ministry sees no need to share this information.– Adam Bowie, Department of Health
The modeling is generally not made public, Bowie said, « because the numbers fluctuate daily and depend on the information available at any given time. »
“Few, if any, provinces or territories regularly release COVID-19 models, “because this information alone can be misinterpreted and may not present an accurate description of the current situation,” he said. declared.
« At this time, the ministry sees no need to share this information. If that changes, we will be sure to release this information publicly and reach out to you and other members of the media for your outreach. »
The department has previously released certain modeling data when « significant trends » have been identified and supported by other evidence, particularly during the early days of the pandemic in 2020 and earlier this year at the start of the Omicron wave, said he added.
Many have lost the fear of Omicron
Rod Russell, professor of virology and immunology at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, said he was not surprised the government was hesitant to release modeling data, « because it could be s ‘turn out to be very wrong’.
Modeling is difficult, he said, because there are so many variables involved. You can model based on previous waves, populations of similar size, or population densities.
« But at the end of the day…it’s a virus that likes to change, » he said. « And then we also have human behavior. » As an example, he cited if people choose to mask themselves.
Having accurate COVID-19 case rates to use in modeling is also a major challenge now, as many people are testing at home and not reporting, or not testing at all, Russell said.
Plus, there’s the added unknown of how the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters will reduce transmission and spread.
Exposure rates will increase, however, Russell said, pointing to a decrease in masking due to the lifting of restrictions and increased socializing due to changes in public opinion.
“After so many people got Omicron, a lot of people stopped being afraid of it,” because it was mild in many cases, he said.
« A lot of people think the pandemic is over, or at least it’s over for them. They said they were ‘over’. »
There are still people vulnerable to COVID-19, however, Russell said.
Given that, « I think we kind of have to expect a bigger push than we’ve ever seen, » he said, but maybe not as deadly.
« If they survived their first infection, you know there’s a good chance they’ll survive a second. »
Few still take protective measures
Simon Bacon, professor of behavioral medicine at Concordia University in Montreal, said he would be surprised if New Brunswick — or any other government — invests the time, money and effort to do a good job. modeling now.
« I’m not 100% sure they’re interested in doing anything proactive in the COVID situation, because they think, I think most politicians – not necessarily public health people, but most politicians, I think – at this point right now are just kind of like, ‘Nobody cares.' »
Bacon argues that the « contradiction » of governments has not helped.
On the one hand, they lift the protective measures against COVID-19. But on the other hand, they tell people that it is important that they get vaccinated and that they get a booster.
« And the population is kind of standing there scratching their heads and saying, ‘Well, why? … You give me no indication of the importance of this or the necessity of this.
« ‘In fact, you’re doing the exact opposite. Your actions say all is well.' »
As things stand, Bacon thinks the majority of people think COVID is nothing to worry about, while a rapidly shrinking minority are still taking good steps to protect themselves and others. others.
« There’s probably a false sense of security around where we are with the COVID pandemic, » he said.
In Quebec, he said, some 2,000 people are hospitalized with COVID, and between five and 20 COVID deaths occur every day. « In a bad week, it’s like 140 people. It’s like a plane going down, COVID deaths. »
A new variant could mean « problem »
He said he understands that modeling a complex and evolving pandemic is difficult and will always involve some degree of error, but data retention is not the answer.
« All it does is create distrust and drive this additional apathy towards what may be key elements that may need to be reintroduced down the line or, you know, people understand the risk and minimize the risk, and of course, just reduce infections by taking the precautions they should. »
Bacon would like to see risk modeling for individuals in various situations. If a person is of a certain age and has certain characteristics, for example, what is their risk if they work in a bar or restaurant compared to an office? How does their risk change if they wear a mask? How does their risk change if they get a booster dose, or two or three?
« Governments have really made this big push on individual responsibility and pushing everything on the individual to make the decisions they want to make, » Bacon said.
« But they haven’t really armed them with information about when they should do it, and what kind of impact it has on them personally, or the people around them. »
Without information to understand risk, people are vulnerable in high-risk situations that they may not understand to be high-risk situations, he said.
The other big concern with « this ‘everything is fine’ feeling, » Bacon said, is that if a new variant as severe as Delta and as transmissible as Omicron emerges, « we could be in real trouble. »
« What will be the appetite of governments to react to this, to a population that they are disenfranchised from, who don’t think it’s really a problem, and may need to reintroduce measures that… are going to be very unpopular in Because of all the things governments have said about not needing these things anymore?”