Ontario will soon start asking COVID-19 patients about race and socio-economic status
A nurse sits outside a tent at an encampment outside Sanctuary Ministries in Toronto on Monday, May 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TORONTO -- Ontario health officials say they will soon be collecting race-based and socio-economic information from COVID-19 patients.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said that while their primary concern up until a few weeks ago was tracing contact cases from people travelling abroad, they are now seeing more cases popping up in “congregate settings.”
“As we continue to move through we started moving into the congregate settings, that dealt with a lot more areas around shelters and homelessness, and with some of the consultants saying we need to look at that data," Dr. David Williams said.
"A lot of our initial caseload in early March and March Break was people travelling from cruise ships and destinations, vacations … now we are seeing it flow into these congregant ones,” he said, adding that they have heard concerns about Indigenous Peoples and those who live in the province’s multiple shelter systems.
Williams said officials are talking with health equity experts to determine what information is necessary to collect in order to determine future policy as well as containment of the disease.
Officials did not say when they would be starting to collect this data, but Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said they are currently working on the wording of the questions and are in the process of getting them added to the list asked by public health units.
Yaffe added that the questions will be voluntary for each patient and that they will be coming “very soon.”
The news comes a day after Toronto’s medical officer of health said that a preliminary analysis of COVID-19 data suggests the disease is disproportionally affecting certain communities in the city.
Dr. Eileen de Villa said that data already collected by the city’s public health units have found that people living in areas with the highest proportion of low-income earners or areas that have the highest proportion of recent immigrants and high unemployment rates experienced a higher rate of both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The data was based on geographic information and not that collected from individuals, something de Villa said paints an incomplete picture of how the disease is impacting certain groups. In order to gain access to that information, de Villa said that officials will soon be asking those who test positive for COVID-19 about their race, income, household size and Indigenous identity.
“This will begin in the near future after we have made the necessary changes to our database to capture this information,” de Villa said on Tuesday.
Throughout the pandemic researchers have been calling for race-based and socio-economic data to be collected, saying that marginalized communities are disproportionately contacting or dying from the disease.