More data needed on COVID-19 cases to reflect impact on demographics: expert

Medical staff prepare for the opening of the COVID-19 Assessment Centre at Brewer Park Arena in Ottawa, during a media tour on Friday, March 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

Numbers released by the government of Canada illustrate the demographic of COVID-19 cases in the country. However, one expert says more data is needed before any conclusions can be made.

According to the figures, which reflect reported data compiled as of March 23, 47 per cent of reported coronavirus cases in Canada are under the age of 50.  Just over half of the cases, 54 per cent, are male. The age group with the highest number of case reports is 50-59, which is 189. 

At the time of publishing, a total of 2,187 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the country. There have been 25 reported deaths from the virus. 

Covid-19 banner

The current numbers appear to contradict what’s frequently being reported about the virus — that older generations will be those who are most affected by it. 

But Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, says there needs to be more data before coming to any meaningful conclusions. While health care providers across the country have been screening as many Canadians as they can, they haven’t been screening everybody who is currently infected. Carriers of the virus can sometimes be asymptomatic or only show mild symptoms.

And while the current data available might be helpful, Bogoch says it won’t answer all questions, because proportions are needed rather than absolute numbers. 

“(The numbers) may not be truly reflective of the demographic burden of infection in Canada,” he tells Yahoo Canada. “It’s interesting and helpful and useful now but we just have to be appreciative of what the strengths and weaknesses are in that data and also appreciate that might change with time as we scale up diagnostic testing in the country.”

As testing for the virus is expected to ramp up across the country in the coming days and weeks, Bogoch says that will provide a better reflection of what the true burden of illness is in the country, and give a better picture of its demographics. That includes statistics on hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients. 

Although the numbers in Canada currently don’t appear to show a higher number of seniors contracting the disease, Bogoch says there’s overwhelming data that shows those who are older, sick and more vulnerable are at greater risk of having a more serious infection, which could in turn lead to death.

“Anyone can get this infection,” he says. “Older people are more likely to get a severe infection.”

The bottom line is that more time and date is needed before any conclusions can be made, Bogoch says.