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City of Toronto urges province to collect COVID-19 race and occupation data

Toronto renews request to the province to gather coronavirus data based on race, income
WATCH ABOVE: After changing its mind when it comes to gathering race-based and socio-economic data during the coronavirus pandemic, the Ontario government still began collecting it. The City of Toronto and many others want to see that change so the response can assist the most vulnerable. Matthew Bingley reports.

Joe Cressy, Toronto Board of Health chair and Spadina-Fort York city councillor, has sent a letter to the province’s health ministry calling for the government to collect data on COVID-19 cases that indicate race, occupation and other socioeconomic indicators.

Toronto Public Health said it has been proactively collecting and analyzing race-based data on cases in the city; however, the province is currently not collecting this data and has not required the 34 local health units across Ontario to collect it, Cressy said.

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

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

“The old adage of ‘what gets measured gets done’ is especially relevant right now,” Cressy said in a statement.

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“In order to tackle COVID-19, we must fully understand it, and who is most at risk. Toronto’s data has shown that while we’re all susceptible to the virus, parts of the city are more impacted than others. In order to protect our residents and beat COVID-19, we need the Ontario government to collect and share disaggregated data.”

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, previously echoed the need for the data collection when they began the process more than a month ago.

“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 said on April 22.

The city said according to its preliminary data, the virus is more prevalent in low-income neighbourhoods that have a higher percentage of immigrants and visible minorities.

Coronavirus outbreak: Toronto to ask those testing positive COVID-19 to provide race, income information
Coronavirus outbreak: Toronto to ask those testing positive COVID-19 to provide race, income information

The Ontario government responded in a statement on Tuesday that they have provided approval for local public health units to collect race-based data on a “voluntary basis” and that it has already been adopted by several public health units.

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“It’s important to note that mandating the collection of this data would require regulatory changes,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

The province said they are working with local public health units to determine the best way to collect this data across all public health units, but has still not mandated health workers testing for COVID-19 to collect it.

“Toronto Public Health’s preliminary data analysis has demonstrated the need for province-wide collection of COVID-19 data and socioeconomic indicators, including race and occupation,” the city said in a news release.

“This information is important for informing decision-making at the provincial level, as well as enabling local public health units to engage in proactive responses to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and help those who are most impacted.”

The letter was approved by Toronto City Council on May 28 and was sent to Health Minister Christine Elliott and Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams.

— With files from Matthew Bingley.