Open letter to PM Trudeau & Dr Tam re Covid-19 spread

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Dr Theresa Tam,

Critical information about the spread of Covid-19 may be available to you and your colleagues from a cost efficient & relatively quick population survey that can be extrapolated to the general public. In this note, I describe what information can be collected and how it can be done.


I am a polling expert with some 50 years experience. I worked at the Institute for Behavioural Research at York U, the CBC, & later ran my own Internet survey research company ViewStats Research. You can check my credentials on   and


Canada has an urgent need for accurate information about the coronavirus outbreak & the scientific survey methodology is perfectly suited to get it. Let me explain how.


The coronavirus plague is creating a tremendous anxiety and fear amongst Canadians. Many suspect they have the virus but cannot get tested because the policy is only test those whose symptoms require medical intervention. While we know how many died, we don’t know how many caught the virus. As a result we don’t really have a reliable statistic for the coronavirus death rate.

We know the numerator but have no idea of the denominator.

It is very likely that the 1-2% figure for Canada is a huge overestimate. If it were closer to .1%, the influenza figure, and bad as that death rate is, an accurate estimate could significantly reduce the fear Canadians have of coronavirus.


Related to this is that we have no idea of what is the accurate distribution (neither numerical or demographic) of coronavirus spread across Canada. We simply jump from one hot spot to another. The end result is that the country and its policymakers are constantly reactive to the plague rather than being ahead of the wave.


Also, if we knew the geographical distribution of the viral spread, it would allow us to distribute medical personnel and equipment in a much more effective manner by identifying areas that are up-and-coming hotspots. This would allow public health authorities to target these areas by social distancing measures to try to flatten the virus’ exponential growth earlier rather than later when the damage has been done.


But that is exactly the kind of information that the Canadian government could obtain by undertaking a national in-home survey of  between 10,000 & 12,000 homes randomly distributed across the country and representative of the country as a whole. This in-home survey would provide interviewers with a portable measurement kit much like the Abbott Laboratories system that would assess the coronavirus status of all respondents within a household in situ. It takes between 5 to 15 min per person. The survey would tell us how many Canadians are infected with the virus, whether they are symptomatic or not. There would be a tremendous respondent buy-in from the sample of selected households as the survey would be well publicized across all media beforehand.


Who would not want to know whether they are infected the coronavirus or not?


In addition for those households in which individuals came up positive, there would be a follow-up questionnaire examining behavioral patterns that may have resulted in their catching the virus. The survey information that would include respondent demographics would be very useful for public health officials in developing behavioral strategies to minimize the infection rate.


Thirdly, the survey would provide critical data on what parts of the country may be ready to begin to reengage in the local economy. Different parts of the country have been infected at different rates. There is not going to be one moment when all of Canada is ready to go back to work. With adequate testing procedures in place some parts of  the country will be ready to go back to work sooner, other parts later. At some point people have to stop fearing the virus and start thinking of how to live with it.


Perhaps the best group to conduct the survey would be Statistics Canada. Among other surveys, it is responsible for conducting the monthly Labour force survey and has an expert field staff ready to go to work.

But someone has to tell them to go and do it.

Which is why I’m writing to you.

Given the crisis we face, this is an idea that urgently needs to be discussed by those who have green light capabilities at the federal level.


Oleh Iwanyshyn

About Oleh Iwanyshyn

Oleh Iwanyshyn has been involved professionally with surveys from the mid-70s when he started as a methodologist at the Institute for Behavioral Research at York University. Later, while at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation his focus shifted to media and election surveys. He now runs his own survey research company, ViewStats Research, established in 1997 and specializing in online surveys. Public opinion surveys is an essential communication tool between a democratic society and its leaders. Unfortunately, surveys can be very easily manipulated. Revealing such manipulations and their consequences is the raison d'être of the poll stuff blog.
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