Hamilton advocates call for tracking of race and income data in COVID-19 cases

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Advocates for Hamilton’s marginalized residents are urging public health to begin collecting more-detailed information about those who test positive for the novel coronavirus.

Kojo Damptey, executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI), said the city is currently only posting age statistics on its website, but says more comprehensive data is needed.

“If you’re collecting age, there should be other social demographic information that should be attached to that information,” said Damptey during an interview on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show. “Whether it’s race, gender, income status, location, ward, what have you.”

“Because after this is done, we’ll have to figure out how to address those that have been disproportionately affected. And if you don’t have those numbers, how are you going to make the right decisions?”

READ MORE: Canada still considering gathering race-based coronavirus data, officials say

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Canada has yet to decide whether it will track race-related data on COVID-19, but public health officials in the United States who have been looking at that information have found that Black communities are disproportionately impacted by the virus.

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On Wednesday, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said the province will begin collecting race and socio-economic data from COVID-19 patients, although the exact method for collecting that information has yet to be determined. The province’s associate medical officer of health said it will be gathered through questions that are asked on a voluntary basis because they’re not covered by anti-racism legislation.

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

Meanwhile, Toronto has already begun tracking that information.

On Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health said that a high-level review of area data in Toronto has found higher rates of coronavirus and hospitalization in areas with high unemployment, immigrants and lower-income, adding those same areas might be disproportionately impacted.

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Damptey said that’s something that Hamilton should be doing as well, but he notes there is often a reluctance by all levels of government in Canada to acknowledge that race and racism have real implications.

“When we’re raising these issues, there seems to be pushback,” said Damptey. “I think it’s a general myth in Canada that racism doesn’t happen. But historically, we’ve known there are issues of racism in this country on the federal, provincial and municipal level.”

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A spokesperson for Hamilton’s public health department acknowledged that they’ve been in touch with the HCCI about possibly tracking race and socio-economic data.

“We were in the process of looking at collecting this data (social determinants of health data) and the Ministry of Health has recently informed us that they’re looking to develop a clear and consistent provincial approach for all health units to follow in the near future,” wrote Kelly Anderson in an email. “We all understand this is an important issue, but to do it well requires a consistent and well-formulated approach. ”

READ MORE: Canada’s lack of race-based COVID-19 data hurting Black Canadians: experts

Following the province’s announcement that it will look at tracking more demographic information on a voluntary basis, Damptey said it’s a good first step, but suggested more needs to be done.

“We’re going to continue to push them to say, ‘Hey look, this shouldn’t be a voluntary option. It should be something that should be done so that it can inform some of the recovery discussions that are going to happen.'”

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