Peel Public Health, which serves residents in Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon, is piloting a project that will enable it to collect race- and occupation-based data on COVID-19 patients in the region.
The goal of collecting the data–which is also being done in Toronto and a number of U.S. jurisdictions–will be to determine if people of certain backgrounds (or who work in certain sectors) are more likely to suffer ill effects from the novel coronavirus.
“We actually started putting together the collection instrument earlier this month and implemented it shortly thereafter,” Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Public Health’s interim Medical Officer of Health, told insauga.com
Loh says the data is being collected to examine health equity in the region.
“Health equity is a priority of Peel Public Health and it was endorsed by regional council prior to all of this happening. Health equity speaks to the idea that good health isn’t equitably divided in our community. Different people have different opportunities to experience good health,” he says.
Loh says that a lot of eye-opening studies are coming out of the U.S. that indicate people of specific races are being impacted worse than others by the pandemic.
“We want to be able to identify any disparities and see if there are additional steps we should be taking,” says Loh.
While Ontario has yet to start collecting race-based data across the board (something advocates and the Ontario NDP have called for), studies coming out of the U.S. suggest that racialized communities have fared worse over the course of the pandemic.
NPR recently reported that, across many parts of the U.S., Black Americans are dying of COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates.
When asked about the reports, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that health care inequity has always impacted the Black community in the U.S.
NPR said Fauci referred to factors such as underlying health conditions, lack of insurance, and substandard housing. According to the article, nearly three-quarters of those who have died of the virus in Milwaukee County were black.
While Canada has universal health care, systemic racism and associated barriers are a significant issue in the country.
Loh says it’s too early to tell if racialized communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
“At this time, we’re piloting this and haven’t evaluated [any results] yet. We’re one of the first [organizations to do this] and it’s about enhancing health equity.”
While there isn’t information on the impact COVID-19 has on Canadians of colour in particular just yet, a recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives indicates that some workers are significantly more at risk of contracting the disease.
In a report titled Canadian workforce unevenly protected from COVID-19, senior economist David Macdonald writes that workers more likely to be exposed to the virus are also the least likely to be able to work from home or have their leave paid for by an employer.
“Accommodation and food services, retail, and a broad category including janitors, temporary workers, tour operators and travel agencies, fall into this category, with only 19 per cent, 37 per cent and 32 per cent of leave paid for respectively,” Macdonald writes.
The report also notes that most women in Canada work in the clerical, cleaning, catering, cashiering and care (health care, child care, long-term care, etc) fields, several of which put them at greater risk of contracting the virus.
“…Three of these professions (care, catering and cleaning) are going to be on the frontlines of combatting the virus. Truck drivers, equipment operators and building trades workers, the largest male professions, aren’t as directly exposed to the virus as female workers, but they also can’t do their jobs from home,” the report reads.
Loh says that, at this point, it’s too early to say whether public health agencies will continue to collect race- and occupation-based data after the crisis has subsided.
“Our data needs to be aligned with provincial and federal programs. We’ll see if there are changes in direction, but overall the consideration will always be there. Health is not equitably distributed and some groups don’t have the same opportunities for health that others do,” he says.