Coronavirus disproportionately affecting Toronto's low-income, immigrant communities

May 5 2020, 1:28 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting Toronto’s low-income and immigrant communities, according to Toronto Public Health.

On Tuesday, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said that coronavirus is impacting some groups more than others.

The preliminary research done by Toronto Public Health analyzed small geographic areas in the city, but has not yet collected data on the individual level.

De Villa emphasized that analyzing geographic areas does not provide precise in depth analysis that data collection on a case-by-case basis would do.

But based on the information already known on geographic regions that indicate income status or immigration levels, Toronto Public Health is making their own “high level” inferences with available coronavirus health data.

De Villa emphasized that there have been higher levels of coronavirus cases in low-income and immigrants communities, or areas that have higher rates of unemployment.

“COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting these communities,” de Villa said.

In order to gage a better understanding of how the virus is affecting these communities, more sociodemographic questions will be asked in the case management process.

“We will be asking all who test positive about their race, income, household size, Indigenous identity and First Nation status,” de Villa said.

“This will begin in the near future after the database changes have been made.”

De Villa said that the information had not been made available earlier, as they were working in other various areas of Toronto with long-term care homes and the shelter community.

City Councillor and Toronto Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy, who had been advocating for raced-based data collection, showed his support for the changes in the Toronto Public Health strategy.

“It’s crucial that we measure the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on different groups and communities,” Cressy said.

He said that “early analysis” by Toronto Public Health shows that coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are “higher in areas that are low-income, have high unemployment rates, have higher levels of recent immigrants.”

Cressy has been vocal about public health data collecting information on different ethno-racial groups to have a better understanding of how the virus spreads.

On April 22, Cressy noted that Toronto Public Health began conducting a preliminary ecological analysis linking home addresses of confirmed cases to area-based estimates of sociodemographic characteristics from the Census, as a proxy for individual-level data.

The public health unit’s objective is to estimate if there are disparities in incidences of the illness, and hospitalizations between sociodemographic groups in Toronto.

Toronto Public Health launched the Coronavirus Rapid Entry System (CORES) to manage case and contact tracing.

“In the weeks to come, we will be exploring the ability to enhance the data fields in CORES to allow for the collection of race-based data,” Cressy said at the time.

To date, there have been 6,448 total coronavirus cases with 469 reported deaths in Toronto.