On April 30, 2021, Brunswick News ran an article in its New Brunswick papers saying that the province had the lowest COVID-19 testing rate per capita in Canada. It was a highly problematic article because it said nothing about positivity rates.
New Brunswick’s COVID-19 testing has consistently resulted in a positivity rate that is under 2 per cent. Indeed, during the January and February outbreak, the positivity rate tended to run between about 1.5 per cent and 1.9 per cent. On the days I calculated the rate, not once was it over 2 per cent. On April 30, 2021, it was 0.98 per cent.
That’s very good, much better than most of Canada.
Any rate under 2 per cent indicates aggressive testing directed at containment, and New Brunswick has been quite effective in achieving containment. What is happening with the latest outbreak, particularly with the B.1.617 variant (so-called “India” variant) in Zone 3 (Fredericton), is a waiting game and aggressive testing does need to be part of containment and eradication.
Given the problematic and numerically-challenged reporting by Brunswick News, I calculated positivity rates for Canada using the federal government’s data for April 30, 2021.
The positivity rates for every province west of Québec are troublingly high, and indicate that COVID-19 testing needs to be more aggressive.
Quebec’s positivity rate is 2.47 per cent, and it reflects the success in containing the pandemic after a very rough winter. Those of us in New Brunswick are grateful for our neighbour’s good work.
Nova Scotia has had public walk-in testing and, on April 30, 2021, had a positivity rate at 0.52 per cent yesterday. On May 1, Nova Scotia, had 148 new cases, 16,578 tests, with a positivity rate of 0.89%.
We could question whether New Brunswick should be testing more. The reports that Public Health is not utilizing the rapid testing is concerning and puzzling. We may be at a moment when it would be good public policy to use the rapid tests, particularly in Zone 3. On May 1, the testing rate in Zone 3 (Fredericton) was 0.11 per cent.
If you want to check the data, here’s the Canadian government’s website. The Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 information site has a useful article on understanding positivity rates.
We will be living with this pandemic for a long time. But, how we assess the data will assist us in living with it safely and advocating effectively for good public health policies.
Elizabeth Mancke is the Canada Research Chair in Atlantic Canada Studies at the University of New Brunswick.