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B.C.’s COVID-19 death toll likely 2x what’s been reported: study

Preliminary evidence suggests the province’s excess deaths in 2020 were from the virus, says co-author Tara Moriarty
Medical transporter Adrian Parrilla moves a patient into a COVID-19 unit. (AP/Jae C. Hong)

Twice as many British Columbians may have died from COVID-19 than what was reported by the government, according to an in-depth analysis of fatalities during the first wave.

“Excess All-Cause Mortality During the COVID-19 Epidemic in Canada,” a policy briefing for the Royal Society of Canada, was published this month by a group of Canadian researchers.

The study focused on the deaths in people 45 and older, most susceptible to the virus, and adjusted figures to include the rise in drug poisoning deaths amid the pandemic.

A study of death rates, antibody tests and cremation data found that at least two-thirds of the deaths caused by COVID-19 outside of long-term care may have been missed.

Co-author of the report, University of Toronto professor Tara Moriarty, said from Feb. 1 to Nov. 28, 2020, there were 1,767 more deaths than a typical year in the province.

She believes most – if not all of them – are a result of COVID-19 infections.

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As it stands, provincial health officials put the COVID-19 death toll at 1,754 lives lost in the 17 months leading up to June 28, 2021.

If Moriarty and her team’s analysis is correct, coronvirus deaths are currently double that amount.

The growing focus on nursing home outbreaks may have clouded public agencies from considering frail adults who died at home as victims of the virus too.

“The weight of the evidence really does suggest that they were missed COVID-19 deaths,” said Moriarty. “In Quebec, mostly all of their excess deaths were a result of the virus.”

RELATED: Canada marks 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began

It appears that approximately 78 per cent of likely or quite likely COVID-19 deaths in B.C. were not reported or identified, Moriarty told Black Press Media.

“This is consistent with what have been seeing in other countries,” she said.

Unlike other provinces, data from B.C. suggests many of the excess deaths occurred to people of racialized communities, who are 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19.

“Failure to recognize the heightened COVID-19 risk faced by community-dwelling elders and racialized workers likely delayed the implementation of public health interventions that may have saved lives,” read the report.

When asked about the report Tuesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry urged people to take it with a “grain of salt.”

Henry admitted that some COVID-19 deaths may have been missed early on but said all were investigated and counted by BC Coroners Service.

READ ALSO: Infant from Interior Health died from COVID-19, Coroner probe confirms

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