Toronto tells Province to start collecting coronavirus race and occupational data

Jun 2 2020, 9:47 am

Toronto is calling on the Province to immediately collect and share socioeconomic and race-based data on COVID-19 to inform a direct targeted response.

On Monday, Toronto Board of Health Chair and City Councillor Joe Cressy, wrote a letter to Health Minister Christine Elliot and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Williams, requesting the province “immediately begin the collection and sharing of COVID-19 data disaggregated by race, occupation, and other socio-economic indicators.”

On May 28, Toronto City Council voted to request this information in collaboration with affected communities and health professionals and to proactively share the data with the public and public health units — the province handles coronavirus testing and guidelines.

“Physicians, researchers, and public health experts have all indicated that this data is critical to understanding the COVID-19 pandemic. However, to date we have been told that the Government of Ontario will not be collecting such data,” the letter reads.

“Instead, it has been suggested that each of Ontario’s 34 local public health units could collect their own data, on a voluntary basis. This approach will not provide a complete picture of how COVID-19 is affecting Ontarians.”

Toronto Public Health is already collecting and analyzing disaggregated data on coronavirus cases in the city.

And, an area-based analysis has shown that the virus is more prevalent in neighbourhoods that are low-income and have a higher percentage of immigrants and visible minorities.

“This information is important for informing decision-making at the provincial level, as well as enabling local public health units engage in proactive responses to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and help those who are most impacted,” Cressy said.

The City Councillor points out that when the pandemic first appeared in Ontario, the impact of the virus was noted amongst the most vulnerable residents who live in congregate settings, particularly homeless shelters and long-term care homes.

But now, the need to collect data on income, race, and housing is becoming “more apparent.”

In Toronto, five neighbourhoods with the lowest number of coronavirus cases have median household incomes that are almost double the household incomes in the neighbourhoods with the most cases.

Cressy also points out that at the same time, the percentage of visible minorities in the areas with the most cases is more than double that with the areas that have fewest cases.

“It is clear that this is a virus that preys on poverty and existing health inequities.”

For Cressy, having access to the data can directly inform a targeted response. So, public health can launch proactive testing to limit transmission in high-risk settings and workplaces.

And, better work can be done to strengthen labour protections for jobs or industries where the risk of transmission is higher, such as providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) or infection prevention and control practices.

On May 6, Williams said the province would begin collecting race-based data to better understand how communities are being impacted by the virus.

He emphasized that the data can inform policy decision, but should not encourage any type of racial profiling.

Toronto Public Health also released an interactive map showing the most and least number of cases by neighbourhood to again, better bring about targeted strategies to tackle virus spread.