Everyone should participate in the COVID-19 survey to ensure the best pandemic response

Complete survey data is important for short and long-term policy decisions

The BCCDC survey is short and most of its questions are voluntary. Image courtesy of BCCDC

By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor

Look, no one is more surprised than every math teacher who mercy-passed me through high school that I not only excelled in my department-mandated stats classes, but I actually enjoyed them, too. And one thing I learned from these surprising gems in my post-secondary career is the value of broadly-gathered survey and census data. Right now, as governments play a delicate balancing game of how much reopening is too much/too little, survey data is absolutely invaluable. This is why it is imperative that as many people as possible take the BC Centre for Disease Control COVID-19 Survey.

The survey is open to any British Columbian over the age of 18, and asks a number of questions that are meant to better understand how COVID-19 has affected people in this province. The questions range from asking about the economic impact of the virus, to how it has changed behaviors, to simple knowledge questions about the spread of the virus. Almost all of the questions are voluntary, so there is absolutely no reason not to take the 10–15 minutes to complete it.

So why is this survey so important right now? It’s not just a government wellness check to see how its citizens are coping with the stress of the pandemic — although that is certainly a part of it. The data collected from this survey will help policy makers and health officials determine how badly quarantine measures have actually affected people’s health and financial circumstances. It will show which regions are doing better than others. It will guide decisions on how much of the economy needs to be reopened, or which areas (such as elective healthcare) need more resources for remote services if restrictions are impossible to remove at this time.

Our post-pandemic future could also be mapped out by the data collected in this survey. For example, will economic stimulus be more needed than trauma support and mental health services? Will hospitals or doctor’s offices need to prepare for a rush of postponed appointments, and could these locations be other potential hotspots for future waves of the virus? By analysing how people are feeling and where they may be struggling today we can better prepare for what the fallout of all this may be tomorrow.

And the survey will guide messaging decisions for our ongoing pandemic response. It’s perhaps no surprise that lockdown measures — although proven effective — have not been universally well-loved. This could be due to incorrect perceptions of the danger of the virus among certain populations. If public health officials can pinpoint whether this is due to economic fears outweighing fear of illness, lack of knowledge about the virus, or a feeling that the danger isn’t close enough to an individual to be of concern, then public messaging can be altered that incorporates these perceptions into the broader context of the pandemic. With better messaging, perhaps public health compliance will increase, and with it the overall health and safety of the public as a whole.

But these benefits are only obtainable if health and public policy officials have as clear a picture as possible of the circumstances of British Columbians. Incomplete data causes all sorts of problems for researchers and policy makers looking to find or understand social trends. Lack of data hinders our ability to address problems as they are occurring and improve the lives of people who may be needlessly and invisible suffering. While at this time it is unfeasible on a number of fronts to poll every eligible person in BC about their COVID-19 experiences, more data will be more helpful than less.

The BCCDC survey expires on May 31, 2020. If you have not done so already, I urge you to take it if you can. Share it with friends and family and explain its importance. There may be aspects of our pandemic response and its consequences that we’re not yet aware of, but that can save us a lot of grief down the road. But only if we have enough data to assess our situation now.