Toronto's health board chair asks Ontario for 'proactive testing' in city's poorer neighbourhoods
An intake nurse waits for patients at the COVID-19 testing centre in Toronto on Saturday April 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TORONTO -- The chair of Toronto’s Board of Health is calling on the province to conduct “proactive testing” for COVID-19 in the city’s northwest corner, an area where he says infection rates have been up to 10 times higher.
Coun. Joe Cressy wrote an open letter to Health Minister Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams on Thursday in which he pressed them “to act swiftly” to protect residents in poorer communities that he said are being “disproportionately impacted” by the virus.
Cressy said that the city’s own data has consistently shown that the highest case rates are being found in neighbourhoods “where more people experience structural barriers, including racism and discrimination, and have lower household incomes.”
He said that the province can help by conducting proactive testing in “high-incidence neighbourhoods, including northwest Toronto.”
He said that they should also conduct targeted testing of “demographic groups suspected of being at higher risk due to the social determinants of health, including occupation.”
“Early analysis of Toronto Public Health’s data indicates that people working in certain occupations are at a higher risk for COVID-19, including sales and service, trades and transportation and manufacturing. Many employees in these industries are classified as essential workers and therefore have not been able to work from home,” he wrote.
“We need support from the province to move quickly to identify all the workplaces where employees are at higher risk, and to quickly put in place measures to protect people from virus spread in the workplace.”
Some neighbourhoods in northwest Toronto have had more than 400 cases of COVID-19 each since the pandemic began while other wealthier neighbourhoods such as The Beaches (16 cases) and Rosedale-Moore Park (26 cases) have seen much lower rates of infection.
In his letter, Cressy said that “disease preys on poverty” and that the social determinants of health, like income, race and ethnicity, and housing, affect who gets sick and who does not.”
“That is why it is so important to know how vulnerable groups are being affected by
diseases like COVID-19,” he wrote. “We need to work together in order to address the roots of the social determinants of health, and to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario.”
In addition to committing to proactive testing in poorer neighbourhoods, Cressy said that the government should also help fund and create “voluntary accommodation options for people who have COVID-19 but cannot safely self-isolate at home.”