COVID-19 hit racialized, lower income groups in Toronto harder, data shows
TORONTO -- Newly collected race-based data on COVID-19 in Toronto confirms concerns that both racialized and low-income residents have been disproportionately impacted by the virus in the city.
The Toronto Public Health data, which was collected between May 20 and July 16, shows that of the reported COVID-19 cases in Toronto with valid race data, 83 per cent involve members of racialized communities.
According to 2016 census information, only 52 per cent of Toronto's population identify as belonging to a racialized group.
Members of the Black community represented 21 per cent of reported COVID-19 cases in the city despite the fact census data indicates that only nine per cent of Toronto's population identifies as Black.
Conversely, those who identify as white represent about 48 per cent of Toronto's population but only 17 per cent of reported COVID-19 cases in the city.
The city's disclosure, which is based on information from only those who chose to answer questions from a case investigator, indicates that people in lower income households are also overrepresented in the data.
Only about 30 per cent of Toronto's population has a household income of $50,000 or less, according to census information, but that income group represents a little more than 50 per cent of reported infections in the city.
"While COVID-19 has affected all of us, unfortunately it has had a greater impact on those in our community who face greater health inequities," Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said during a news conference on Thursday.
She said in the short-term, addressing the needs of members of the community who are more at risk of contracting the virus involves targeted testing, better communication, and increased access to social supports, including voluntary isolation sites for people who have the virus or are at risk of contracting the virus and do not have a place to properly self-isolate.
"In the longer term however, if we want to have a true impact, a real impact on improving health, including COVID-19, we need to address these health inequities and get to the root cause of what underpins our overall health," she said.
"We need to focus on the social determinants of health, like affordable housing opportunities, access to employment and income supports, and educational opportunities. And yes, we need to address systemic racism."
Dr. Kwame McKenzie, the CEO of the Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based think tank that aims to improve health equity in the GTA, called the data "very concerning."
"They seem to confirm our worry that racialized populations and low-income residents of Toronto are doing worse during the pandemic," he said during Thursday's news conference at city hall.
"The data should lead to urgent action...We clearly need a pandemic response which protects racialized groups and low-income groups, and that means we need to do some things differently."
He noted that in order to properly respond to the situation, understanding why members of these communities are at a greater risk for contracting the virus is key.
"If we want to protect our communities, we need urgently to increase access to affordable, healthy housing. Our racialized populations are much more likely to be overcrowded. Low-income populations are much more likely to be overcrowded," he said, adding that overcrowding makes physical distancing difficult.
"Our racialized communities are also more likely to be essential workers. If we want to protect those communities, we need to properly protect essential workers. We need to protect them at work but we also need to protect them when they are home."
COVID-19 'exposed' inequities in Toronto
Toronto Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy said upon hearing the numbers, it "felt like a punch in the gut."
"Perhaps they shouldn't surprise us. We know that race and income have long determined health status but they do represent a call to action," he said.
"COVID-19 by no means created these racial and economic disparities in Toronto. They existed long before. But COVID has certainly exposed and taken advantage of them."
Mayor John Tory said the data shows the "magnitude" of the challenge the city is facing.
"The data presented today demonstrates that racialized populations and low-income groups in our city are more at risk of contracting the virus and highlights the inequities that unfortunately continue to exist in our city," Tory said.
"Although this information is troubling to hear... having it put before us in stark terms is better for us in our response and in the long term."
He added that additional funding is needed from other levels of government to properly address long-term solutions.
"It goes without saying as we go forward to try to address the broader needs of our residents, but in particular the needs of these lower income residents and racialized communities who are at greater risk and suffer more illness, we must have a consistent and properly funded partnership with the other governments," he said.
"We all know that property taxes cannot and were never intended to finance these kinds of social initiatives on a scale needed to address what this data tells us."