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Coronavirus: City of Toronto to start gathering race-based data connected to COVID-19

Toronto Public Health begins tracking race-based data for COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: Toronto Public Health is trying to eliminate a blind spot in its response to the pandemic. The Ontario government doesn’t track data based on race, which is why the City’s health agency will. Matthew Bingley reports.

Toronto Public Health will now be collecting race-based data connected to COVID-19, a practice its provincial counterparts aren’t doing.

Coun. Joe Cressy, who is also chair of Toronto’s board of health, said the practice was necessary so the city could learn everything it can about those impacted COVID-19 while adjusting public health practices.

Cressy said if the City of Toronto wants to respond effectively during the pandemic, it needs to understand which groups are the most at risk to COVID-19.

READ MORE: 510 new coronavirus cases in Ontario, total rises to 12,245 with 659 deaths

If it does that, Cressy said public health officials can help inform practices to protect the most vulnerable from the disease.

“The provincial government has unfortunately made it clear that they are not interested or willing to collect race-based data,” said Cressy.

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He said the government’s decision was contrary to decades of public health work surrounding data capturing.

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“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,” said Cressy.

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

At the outset of the pandemic, Cressy noted the majority of COVID-19 cases originated from cases associated with travel. Now, he said it is preying on the most vulnerable, many of whom are living in congregate settings like rooming houses.

Cressy said at the moment, there are two pandemics the city is currently dealing with: one impacting the general population and another affecting those who are the most vulnerable.

While the city is successfully flattening the curve for many, Cressy said he’s terrified those who most need the city’s protection aren’t going to have it.

READ MORE: Coronavirus is killing Black Americans at a much higher rate

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, echoed the need for the data collection.

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“Without these types of data, we are not able to fully understand if this pandemic is disproportionately affecting certain people in our community and ways to address these potential inequities,” she told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“Reducing health inequities and improving the health status of all residents in our city is core to our work in public health.”

READ MORE: Chicago’s rate of coronavirus deaths, illness among Black residents alarms U.S. cities

Daniel Dawes, director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, said collecting race-based data in the United States has resulted in policy changes.

“Because of this data, in as close to real-time as possible, we’ve been able to realize who is most impacted and as a result we can align the policies accordingly,” he said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, de Villa said there were 3,685 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Toronto and 384 probable cases.

— With files from Nick Westoll