After months of pressure from Black community advocates and health experts, Ontario announced it will soon begin collecting race-based and socioeconomic data on COVID-19. Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams said the province is consulting with health equity experts to determine what information to collect. So far, no further details have been provided. However, Ontario health official Dr. Barbara Yaffe revealed they are in the process of updating the questionnaire distributed to patients by public health units.
Just last month, community leaders issued a joint statement on COVID-19’s devastating impact on Black communities in Ontario, and urged public health officials to collect race-based data to better inform the government’s pandemic response. Ottawa’s first Black councillor Rawlson King also authored a letter of support, noting the importance of using the data to design a more equitable healthcare system, as well as improve resource allocations for Black communities.
Citing long-standing structural and systemic inequities rooted in anti-Black racism, they outlined concerns the pandemic has amplified existing health and socioeconomic disparities, including poorer health outcomes; poverty; low income; unaffordable housing; and incarceration, which research has shown affects the Black population at disproportionately higher rates.
Black workers, particularly Black women, are overrepresented among essential workers in frontline jobs like PSWs or RPNs; and in service jobs that require close contact with the public. Many of them are providing essential services – such as grocery store clerks, cleaners, and warehouse workers – yet unable to access social and financial relief for their families.
Black families are more likely to live in multi-generational households and may find it difficult to practice physical distancing or self-isolation. Black Canadians are also more likely to have pre-existing health conditions (i.e. diabetes, hypertension, etc.), and lack access to healthcare, putting them at increased risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19.