COVID-19 case definitions, use of denominators, and data sources
Figure 1 displays the types of COVID-19 case definitions we found on each provincial or territorial website. Figure 2 presents the epidemiological reporting standards (case definitions, use of denominators to report COVID-19 case counts, and data sources) of the 10 provinces and for the 15 news outlets at each extraction point.
At the first extraction point (28 April 2020), only 6 of 13 provinces or territories included COVID-19 case definitions on their respective governmental websites. All provincial and territorial websites reported COVID-19 case numbers as absolute values without a denominator such as population size, per 100,000, or number of tested individuals. None reported a source of their data. By 2 June 2020, all 10 provinces and 2 of 3 territories displayed case definitions; Nunavut was the exception. British Columbia provided the source of its data, an easily accessible one. By 29 June 2020, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario joined British Columbia in providing data sources. By 15 September 2020, case definitions and sources showed no additional changes. But Newfoundland began to report certain COVID-19 case statistics with denominators.
By 15 January 2021, case definitions showed no changes, and Quebec  started providing sources for their data. In addition, Newfoundland  and Ontario  began reporting COVID-19 case statistics with denominators. By the final extraction point (19 August 2021), only two additional major changes occurred: Nova Scotia  reported COVID-19 case statistics with denominators and provided sources to their data, and Newfoundland  ceased use of denominators.
Among the 15 news outlets, two-thirds reported absolute case counts without applying any denominators. Few news outlets reported any data sources or provide links directly to those data. Others indicated use of “Government Sources”.
COVID-19 symptomatic versus asymptomatic testing
By 28 April 2020, all 13 provinces and territories recommended COVID-19 testing for individuals who had recently travelled out of the country and had reason to believe they had been exposed to COVID-19, or for those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (Table 2).
COVID-19 testing criteria of all 13 provinces and territories remained unchanged at the second extraction point (2 June 2020). By 29 June 2020, the official governmental websites of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba explicitly stated eligibility for certain asymptomatic individuals to undergo COVID-19 testing. Alberta provided the broadest testing, allowing any individual to be tested whether or not that person had any symptoms . Manitoba’s COVID-19 testing guidelines allowed testing of asymptomatic individuals, or patients who visited an emergency department, or those admitted into acute care or long-term care facilities . Saskatchewan offered COVID-19 asymptomatic testing only to immunocompromised individuals .
By 15 September 2020, most provinces and territories promoted testing of symptomatic individuals on their websites. Alberta and Saskatchewan remained the only two provinces to explicitly encourage testing of asymptomatic individuals. Saskatchewan broadened its testing capacity to allow anyone to receive COVID-19 testing. Manitoba “… developed several options for testing, including introducing voluntary asymptomatic testing for clients in a number of health care settings and for truck drivers travelling outside of Manitoba to further monitor the presence of COVID-19 in the province” .
By 15 January 2021, most provincial and territorial websites still predominately promoted testing of symptomatic individuals. There were, however, some caveats for testing of asymptomatic individuals. These included: individuals having had close contact with a COVID-19 positive person [41,42,43,44], individuals requested to test by public health authorities [41, 42], or people who received an exposure notification via the Canadian COVID Alert app [41, 42]. Ontario also identified certain groups as eligible for asymptomatic testing: workers of long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, or other shelters; farmers; Indigenous people; individuals requiring a COVID-19 test prior to surgery; international students who had completed a 14-day quarantine; and individuals who received a positive result from a COVID-19 antigen test . Only two provinces offered asymptomatic testing to any individual: Saskatchewan  and Nova Scotia . Previously Alberta  and Manitoba  had offered asymptomatic testing, then paused by 15 January 2021.
By 19 August 2021, most provincial and territorial websites still predominately promoted testing of symptomatic individuals with the caveats noted above. At that time, Saskatchewan , Quebec , New Brunswick , Nova Scotia , and the Northwest Territories  allowed asymptomatic testing.
COVID-19 case data by age, sex, and racial or ethnic minority status
Table 2 displays the types of data reported by provinces as of 19 August 2021. As of 15 July 2020, all 10 provinces reported age-stratified data on COVID-19 cases but only Quebec reported age-standardized mortality data . Seven out of ten provinces (British Columbia , Alberta , Manitoba , Quebec , Ontario , Nova Scotia , and Prince Edward Island ) provided sex-stratified data. New Brunswick did provide sex-stratified data, but only for COVID-19 tests; it was not clear whether this represented a breakdown of positive test results or of all testing performed in general . None of the territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, or Nunavut) reported any age- or sex-stratified data on COVID-19 cases. No province or territory reported any COVID-19 data stratified by race or ethnicity. By 15 September 2020, Quebec  no longer reported sex-stratified data. By 15 January 2021, reporting remained the same except Quebec  began to release sex-stratified data. As of 19 August 2021, reporting remained mostly unchanged, except Quebec  and Prince Edward Island  no longer released sex-stratified data, and New Brunswick  no longer released sex-stratified and age-stratified data.
Figure 2 demonstrates that by the final extraction time point (19 August 2021), fewer than half of the news outlets reported COVID-19 case statistics with a denominator and provided sources of data. (One we assessed, Huffington Post Canada, ceased operation as of 9 March 2021.)