VANCOUVER -- White Rock resident Evan Monk got a surprise delivery last Thursday when an unexpected parcel showed up in the mail.

“My initial reaction was just like, I don’t remember ordering anything on the web, so I was a little bit confused as to what it was,” Monk said.

When he opened it, he discovered he is one of the Canadians randomly selected to take part in a nation-wide study by Statistics Canada to determine how many people have had COVID-19, and whether they had symptoms or not. 

The Canadian COVID-19 Antibody and Health survey includes a questionnaire that can be done online or by phone, and an at-home finger-prick blood test, which is sent to a lab to determine whether COVID-19 antibodies are present, indicating a past infection. 

The head of Statistics Canada’s COVID-19 and health data projects Peter Jiao said the study first launched in November 2020, with only about 4,000 kits sent out initially.

“We just sent a much larger wave of 22,000 invitations in the beginning of January,” he said, and added another 22,000 will be sent out across the country towards the end of the month. “It’s a random sample, and the reason we do that is because we want the survey sample to be representative of the Canadian population as a whole.”

In total, they’re hoping to invite 48,000 Canadians to take part, from children as young as one up to seniors. 

About 3,800 survey invitations are expected to be sent to B.C. 

“What we know from health experts is that not everyone who is infected...experiences symptoms, and many people who have had the virus were not tested and nevertheless developed antibodies,” Jiao said. 

“So this survey is designed to provide a reliable statistical estimate of the presence of COVID-19 antibodies at the national and provincial level, and we’re hoping that this information then will be used by health researchers to give them a more complete picture of the spread of the virus across different segments of the population and different areas of the country.”

The collection period for the study ends March 26, and Jiao expects the nationwide results will available by the end of May or early June. 

People can also get the results of their antibody tests mailed to them. 

Jiao said they’re hoping for a response of 45 per cent or better overall. 

“The survey is completely voluntary. If you dont want to participate, then you dont have to,” Jiao said. 

“At the same time, you know, we really do hope people do participate. We hope that people understand that the information we’re collecting is really going to be used to help inform the policies related to COVID-19 that are really affecting all of us.” 

The questionnaire portion asks about COVID-19 exposure, experiences and symptoms. The finger prick kit allows for participants to leave spots of dried blood on a card that is then mailed back for lab testing. 

Jiao said the survey is protected under the Statistics Canada Act, meaning access to the data is strictly controlled. 

“It will never be used to make individual decisions about you. The data is collected for statistical and research purposes and we never share your personal information with those outside of StatCan without your consent,” Jiao said. 

He added there is no identifying information on the envelope containing the dried blood samples other than a bar code, which is "meaningless" to anyone other than an authorized StatCan employee. 

“Every response matters,” Jiao said. “Your response is representing many others in your community, and your response is going to be directly contributing to something important for all of us.”

Monk plans on taking part, and is interested to learn his antibody testing results. 

“I know people would pay money to find out this information right now, and so to be able to get the opportunity to do it for free is obviously fantastic,” he said. “It’s such a simple thing and it doesn’t really take anything out of my day to be able to do this, but it does offer a lot of information to our government to be able to take future steps.”

The federal government has invested $7 million dollars in the study through the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force. Only people who receive the survey kits are able to take part.