Nearly 1 in 5 Canadians say have had COVID-19: StatCan

Almost one in five Canadians say they tested positive for COVID-19 before April 2022, according to a national survey by Statistics Canada.

The survey, published Sept. 6, found 19.5 per cent of respondents said they had tested positive for COVID-19 before April 1, 2022. Of these, 9.8 per cent said they tested positive on a PCR test and 9.7 per cent said they received a positive result on a rapid antigen test.

An additional one in twelve Canadians suspected they were infected with COVID-19 at some point before April 2022, but never tested positive, according to Statistics Canada.

Among the top reasons why people thought they had been infected were: having had COVID-19 symptoms; having been exposed to a household member who was suspected to have had, or who tested positive for, COVID-19; and having been exposed to someone outside their household who was suspected to have had, or who tested positive for, COVID-19.

While Statistics Canada considers PCR lab tests the “gold standard” test for diagnosing COVID-19, the report noted these tests only capture a portion of positive cases.

“Not everyone who acquired COVID-19 may have been aware or tested,” the report reads. “This limitation was exacerbated with the onset of the Omicron variant in late 2021, as much higher rates of infections put a strain on PCR testing in some jurisdictions.”

As a result, the report found there was an increase in the use of rapid antigen tests, the results of which are not necessarily reported to health authorities. Statistics Canada said including rapid test results, as well as responses from people who thought they’d acquired COVID-19 without ever having been tested, is important to better capture national infection rates.

The agency distributed questionnaires to 100,000 Canadians in 10 provinces between April 1 and Aug. 31 for the second phase of the Canadian COVID-19 Antibody and Health Survey. Questionnaires were not distributed in the territories.

According to Statistics Canada, the two-phase survey seeks to better understand the impacts of the pandemic on the health and well-being of Canadians, including the prevalence of chronic symptoms, also known as long COVID.

“Canada’s SARS-CoV-2 monitoring capacities have been undermined by the steep decline in PCR testing for active infection,” Catherine Hankins, Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force co-chair, said in an April 4 press release announcing the launch of the survey.

“With many vaccinated Canadians having light or no symptoms, hospitalization rates are not giving us the full picture of COVID-19 in Canada either. This study is therefore poised to give us a good estimate of the number of Canadians who have previously had a SARS-CoV-2 infection or who have acute infection.”