Ontario should start collecting race-based data on COVID-19
Why is the government of Premier Doug Ford so reluctant to set up a system to collect disaggregated race-based data on COVID-19 ?
We ask the question because it is clear that the lack of this type of data hinders communities from fully understanding any disproportionate impacts this pandemic is having on specific ethno-racial groups.
And we are pleased to note that the City of Toronto’s Public Health unit has started the process of developing its own system to collect race-based data on COVID-19.
In a recent memo to members of the Toronto Board of Health, Joe Cressy, chairman of the Board, pointed out that this issue of race-based data has been raised in recent weeks at the provincial level which has jurisdiction and responsibility for COVID-19 testing.
Unfortunately, at this time the province has indicated that their infectious disease data systems are not set up to collect information based on race or ethnicity.
And, as Cressy indicated, comments from provincial officials suggest this is not a priority concern for them.
But why not?
When asked earlier this month if Ontario planned to collect such data, the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, replied that the groups identified to be most at risk are the elderly, people with underlying conditions and those with compromised immune systems.
“So those are all priorities to us, regardless of race, ethnic or other backgrounds. They’re all equally important to us,” Williams answered Disaggregated race-based data is not necessary, he declared.
Well, Dr. Williams, you are wrong.
Have you been following the news reports from the United States and the United Kingdom where the COVID-19 virus has a “disproportionate impact on people of colour.”?
According to the data from the United States, Black people are contracting the virus at higher rate and are also dying in higher numbers.
In twelve states reporting race and ethnicity data around COVID-19, black residents were found to be 2.5 times more likely to die of the virus than the general population, says the public policy research group, APM Research Lab.
In Chicago, for example, black residents make up 30 per cent of the population but represent more than 70 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths
And in the United Kingdom, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, head of the British Medical Association, called on the government to investigate why Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more vulnerable to COVID-19.
We are pleased to note that the City of Toronto is taking a forward thinking position with respect to the collection of race-based data in the current battle against the COVID-19.
Councillor Cressy has made it abundantly clear that the city needs this information.
“Many have said that COVID-19 is the great equalizer, in that it doesn’t discriminate. But that’s sadly not the truth,” said Cressy.
“What we’re seeing is that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting those who are living in poverty, and whether that’s in seniors homes or in shelters, this is a virus that preys on the marginalized,” he pointed out.
Councillor Cressy has promised to continue to be a vocal advocate for the data which we need to protect the health of all members of the public.
We hope that his message reaches Queen’s Park and the Doug Ford government pays attention.