A thousand NWT residents will be invited to join a study assessing how many Canadians have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and how many have had symptoms of the virus.
In total, 48,000 Canadians across the provinces and territories – aged one and up – will be asked to collect a self-administered, finger-pricked blood sample and fill out a questionnaire from Statistics Canada.
Participants are chosen based on a formula designed to reach a sample of Canadians representative of the whole population.
The project is entitled the Canadian Covid-19 Antibody and Health Survey.
Dr Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the study would provide “a reliable snapshot of how many people have had Covid-19” at a time when the virus is resurgent.
Toronto, for example, reported 520 new cases on Tuesday, setting a record for new infections in the country’s largest city. It is now moving to the “red zone” of Ontario’s pandemic response plan.
Manitoba, similarly, has moved to “red alert” status by shutting down businesses and restricting travel.
The NWT last reported a case of Covid-19 in late October and has had 10 confirmed cases to date this year.
“This study will give us important information on how much transmission there has been, in which parts of the country, and among which populations,” said Tam.
“We will then use this information, with the provinces and territories, to further inform the public health response to Covid-19 across Canada.”
Surveys already in the mail
Sylvain Tremblay, assistant director at Statistics Canada’s Centre for Population Health Data, said the survey launched on Monday. Some residents may have already received invites to participate by mail, but others may not be contacted until early February.
Tremblay said the questionnaire will ask selected residents about their general health, possible exposure to Covid-19, and any symptoms they’ve had. Then residents will need to prick their finger for blood and put the droplets on a piece of paper to be mailed back.
“We don’t have any numbers about the total population that may have been exposed to the virus and, as such, would have developed antibodies in their system,” said Tremblay, explaining that some people who were infected may never have been tested while they had the virus.
Tremblay stressed it’s important that the person identified for the survey completes it, rather than a different member of the household.
“In order to get the best-quality data possible, it is very important that the person selected is the person who participates, because this person will represent many other Canadians that have very similar characteristics such as age and sex,” he said.
The better the participation rate in the survey, he said, the better the data that will influence the government policy and program decisions – like when to reopen certain businesses.
The goal is to have the questionnaires completed by the end of March 2021 and the blood samples analyzed by May. If all goes as planned, Statistics Canada hopes to publish results by late spring.
The $7-million project is funded by the federal government through its Covid-19 Immunity Task Force.