Race and income can drastically increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Toronto, according to data presented by the city’s top doctor.
In a press conference on Thursday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa presented a public health assessment of how factors like a patient’s ethnoracial group, income, household size, and more can impact the likelihood of infection.
Overall, Dr. de Villa said that the information so far shows that certain ethnoracial groups and low-income people are over-represented in coronavirus infections.
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Data found that Arab, Middle Eastern, or West Asian people; Black people; Latin American people; South Asian or Indo-Caribbean people; and Southeast Asian people were over-represented based on their infection rate, when compared to the population size in the city.
East Asian and white people were found to be under-represented in infections.
Indigenous identity was not included in the data as Dr. de Villa said, “we continue to consult with members of this community.”
A total of 83% reported COVID-19 cases — of which ethnoracial data was collected — in Toronto were identified as belonging to a racialized group while making up 52% of the city’s population. Other figures showed that 71% of people hospitalized identified as being part of a racialized group, though de Villa points out this number is taken from a small group of infections since hospitalizations have been low since data collection began.
Arab, Middle Eastern, or West Asian people made up 11% of infections, though only 4% of Toronto’s population. The city’s Black community makes up only 9% of the population, but accounted for 21% of coronavirus cases.
Low-income Torontonians have also suffered disproportionately during the crisis, as 51% of cases with valid income data fell into this group while making up only 31% of the population.
More so, 60% of people hospitalized were shown to be low-income, though, again, these numbers are from a small sample.
Finally, house holds with more people are also over-represented in the city’s infections. Those living in a house of five or more people comprised 27% of coronavirus cases, as 20% of the population.
“While COVID-19 has effected all of us, unfortunately, it has had a greater impact on those in our community who face greater health inequities,” de Villa said during her presentation. “In the short term, addressing the needs of these members of our community will involve measures such as targeted testing, enhanced communications, and increased access to social supports, such as voluntary isolation sites for people with COVID-19.”
However, she added that while these measures can help impact coronavirus infections, systemic social determinants of health, like housing and racism, will continue to place these communities at risk of health crises.
“In public health we have long known that it’s your postal code, rather than your genetic code, that is the biggest driver of health,” Chair of the Board of Health Joe Cressy said in a release.
“The social determinants of health – race, income, housing status – have long determined who gets sick, who lives, and who dies. This has always been the case: COVID-19 just exposed it for all to see. Our task going forward is to use this data to further inform our response, so that we can protect vulnerable residents and beat this pandemic.”
Collected between May 20 and July 16, the data captured confirmed and probable coronavirus infections, but did not include those living at long-term care homes. According to public health, approximately 27% of people with confirmed or probable cases in the reporting date did not have their socio-demographic data collected.
“The data that has been collected and presented by Toronto Public Health will help us in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing us to help specific neighbourhoods that we know are being more severely impacted,” Mayor John Tory said.
“Learning more about the impacts COVID-19 is having on our residents will not only allow us to respond in the interim, but in the long-term we can develop better services, programs and policies that address these findings and future challenge we may face.”