Coronavirus pandemic hitting Ottawa’s most diverse communities hardest: health unit

The novel coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately affecting Ottawa’s racialized and immigrant communities, according to early race-based data collected by the local public health unit.

As of May 8, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has been collecting socio-demographic data related to residents testing positive for the coronavirus.

Since then, two thirds (66 per cent) of positive coronavirus tests have been connected to someone from a racialized group, OPH says.

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That suggests an overrepresentation of infection in Ottawa’s racialized communities, with the 2016 census indicating 26 per cent of the city’s population identifies as a visible minority.

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It’s a similar story for immigrants in Ottawa, with newcomers accounting for 54 per cent of coronavirus cases since May 8 but only a quarter of the city’s overall population.

Looking at the spread of the virus geographically, OPH says areas of Ottawa with the most diverse populations have almost twice the rates of infection as the city’s least diverse areas.

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Though Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches cautioned in a presentation to city council Wednesday that OPH’s race-based pandemic analysis is currently based on a small sample size, the findings are in line with earlier provincial reports that found the virus was disproportionately affecting visible minorities in Ontario.

OPH said it is expanding its analysis to include cases retroactive to May 8 and is working with community partners to understand and address the vulnerability of racialized groups in the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also taking a toll on the mental health of Ottawa residents, OPH said Wednesday.

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A survey conducted through EKOS Research earlier this month sought to give OPH an insight into how Ottawans are coping with loneliness and other mental health impacts during the pandemic.

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Some 38 per cent of residents said their overall emotional well-being was either “fair” or “poor” in the past 14 days, according to OPH’s survey.

The public health unit compares those sentiments to a 2017 Canadian Community Health Survey, which reported the same response from only nine per cent of Ottawa residents.

Similarly, 52 per cent of respondents reported a “weak” sense of belonging in their local community as compared to 30 per cent in 2017.

Nearly 60 per cent of Ottawa residents surveyed also reported feeling lonely in the past two weeks, OPH said.

Etches promoted the city’s mental health and COVID-19 resources page as well as a new online resource targeting Ottawa’s First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities as places concerned residents could visit for support amid the pandemic.

OPH reported four new cases of the virus in Ottawa on Wednesday and one new death related to COVID-19, bringing the total number of local cases to 2,065 and the pandemic death toll to 262.

There are currently 53 active cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa and one person in hospital with the illness.

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