Toronto to collect race-based data for COVID-19

Joe Cressy

The City of  Toronto’s  public health unit has started the process of developing its own system to collect race-based data for COVID-19.

In a memo last week to members of the board of health, Councillor  Joe Cressy, chairman of the board, said the lack of data hinders fully understanding how the virus impacts specific ethno-racial groups and others facing barriers due to systemitic inequities.

Cressy  told The Caribbean Camera  that this issue has been raised in recent weeks at the provincial level, which has jurisdiction and responsibility for COVID-19 testing.

But he said the province has indicated that “it is not planning nor does it see merit in collecting ethnocultural and race-based data. ”

And comments from provincial officials suggest this is not a priority concern for them

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.

But Cressy said that “”If we don’t know who’s at risk and which communities are most vulnerable, we can’t respond to protect them.”

“Many have said that COVID-19 is the great equalizer, in that it doesn’t discriminate. But that’s sadly not the truth,” Cressy said.

“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 also pointed out that  in other jurisdictions, particularly in the United States, there is ” a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the African American  and Latino American communities.”

Cressy said that Toronto Public Health is exploring partnerships with  hospitals and other non-profit institutions in order to have ” better access to data on socio-demographic information or more sophisticated methods of conducting appropriate analyses. ”

” If the provincial government is not willing to collect and share that data, we’re going to step up and find a way to do it ourselves,”  he added.