Nova Scotia’s lame excuse for hiding Covid-19 data

Last Friday, Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Robert Strang reconfirmed his refusal to release Covid-19 data by county, rather than by health region. He had earlier promised to revisit this decision once numbers rose, but apparently thought better of it.

Nova Scotia has 18 counties, but only four health regions. County-by-county data would help citizens better assess their specific health risks. It would help researchers study the pandemic, now and in the future. Releasing data by Census Canada districts would be even more helpful.

As usual, Nova Scotia officials cite “privacy” as the reason for withholding useful data.

There’s a barnyard epithet that covers this. The refusal to provide granular data has nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with retaining the power that exclusive access to critical information assures.

The province showed no qualms about releasing far more detailed data about possible covid exposure on a July 12 Westjet flight from Toronto to Halifax.

While anyone on the flight could have been exposed, based on Public Health’s investigation to date, passengers in rows 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 seats A-C are more likely to have had close contact.

I happen to live in Nova Scotia’s tiniest county, Victoria, with a population of just 7,089 souls. The Boeing 737-800 jet used on WestJet’s July 12 Flight 254 has a maximum of 37 souls in rows 16-20 plus 21A & 21C. So a one-in-37 chance of identifying an affected person is OK, but a one-in-7,000 chance is verboten.

In fact, based on the provincial announcement, the affected part(ies) were probably in Row 18, which has seven seats, and most probably in Seat 18A or 18C. So there’s likely a one-in-seven or a one-in two chance of identifying the unfortunate Westjet passenger(s).

To be sure, there is a legitimate difference between the two datasets. The WestJet disclosure alerts people to a specific threat of exposure; the Victoria County data merely helps citizens and researchers assess the Covid problem generally, a process Strang and Premier Stephen McNeil prefer to keep to themselves and their close advisors.

Citizens (and medical researchers) denied data are ill-equipped to question or challenge provincial policies. Privacy doesn’t enter into it.

Example 28,319 of how Canada’s privacy panic harms Canada’s democracy.


A reader in Coconino County AZ (population 143,476) points to her county’s Covid-019 Data Dashboard, which shows data by age, gender, Zip Code, ethnicity, underlying condition, case rate per population, and rate of positive tests. Wouldn’t you like to know some of those data points for your community? Partial screenshot at right. Click the link for the Full Monty.