Data experts are raising concerns about B.C.'s latest modelling numbers, which they say aren't painting the full picture of COVID-19 impacts in schools.
Data analyst Jens von Bergmann and health science education researcher HsingChi von Bergmann looked into the latest statistics from the province, which were delivered in a slideshow presentation on Dec. 23.
One slide on COVID-19 testing on school-aged children stood out: it indicated one in 100 students have been tested, seven out of 100 tests came back positive, and that seven in 1,000 students tested positive.
That math doesn't add up, Jens von Bergmann noted, suggesting it might actually be seven in 10,000 students who tested positive - though it's difficult to know for sure since detailed testing data isn't publicly released.
He called that discrepancy a minor issue, but one that still "set off alarm bells."
“It does not give you the confidence that somebody is actually paying close attention,” he told CTV News.
The analyst highlights several inconsistencies from the modelling presentation in the latest post on his blog, Mountain Math.
He said it’s most concerning that the modelling included data on the number of schools to experience a COVID-19 exposure, which is 526, and does not include the actual number of exposure events.
“There's a huge difference to having just one event over the entire semester -- which is traumatic on its own, it causes disruptions and anxiety -- but having two or three each week, coming in week after week, that’s not the same thing,” von Bergmann said.
He plugged in data from B.C. COVID School Tracker, which is a crowd-sourcing information page that shares news on schools with exposures and cases, and found those 526 schools have had nearly 1,400 exposures.
This does not come as a surprise to Kathy Marliss, who started the tracking Facebook page.
“It was good to have some people with credentials be able to analyze that data and compare it with ours to say you know what, there is some big discrepancy that needs to be really addressed,” she said.
Marliss said each school exposure event that gets posted is confirmed with a letter from a public health authority or the school district.
She said parents, teachers and support staff have shared information that reveal that may be an even bigger discrepancy.
In one case, a letter stated there was one exposure event but an administrator later sent a letter, which Marliss received, that four people in the school had tested positive.
“It is a clear indication that they are minimizing the actual exposure events that are happening in schools,” she said.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said the deputy provincial health officer, the head of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, health authorities and the Ministry of Education are reviewing the school safety plans and what information can be shared.
“They absolutely are looking at what is the data we have and what we can provide to people to meet those needs,” she says. “It’s challenging because we don’t collect some information that some people would like, and we can’t share information that some people would like.”
Marliss fears without greater transparency, parents cannot make informed decisions about sending their kids to school.
von Bergmann agrees timely data is important to help paint a full picture of how COVID-19 is impacting classrooms and for officials to have protocols to deal with it.
"How much community spread is too much? How many exposures in a school can we tolerate before we say, ‘This doesn’t work, we need to do something.’ And that’s just not there at all,” he said.