While it’s understood in a general sense that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those who are poor and those who are not white harder than others, nearly a year into the health crisis, we still don’t have a clear picture of just how much harder it’s hitting racialized communities.
Instead, we have to make educated guesses based on how hard the virus has hit certain neighbourhoods.
“In the Côte-des-Neiges borough, there are significant members of the Black community living in that borough, and it has been one of the hardest-hit boroughs (in Montreal),” Sharon Nelson, vice-president of the Jamaica Association of Montreal, said via Zoom.
Advocates argue that race-based data on who is getting COVID-19, and who is needing hospitalization or is ultimately dying from the illness, will help us draw an important link.
“We do not have this information here in Quebec,” said Dr. Jill Hanley, a social work professor at McGill University.
“We’ve been able to cross-reference this information from the census, from people’s neighbourhoods, but we can’t actually link it directly to their experiences with COVID, or their experiences with the health-care system, or what happens when they get COVID.”
That’s why independent Montreal city councillor Marvin Rotrand, along with fellow councillors Giuliana Fumagalli (Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension’s independent borough mayor) and Giovanni Rapanà (who represents Rivière-des-Prairies), is introducing a motion to call on all orders of government to begin collecting race-specific COVID-19 data.
“I wanna know, is the Government of Quebec afraid of the numbers?” Rotrand asked. “Will it reveal racial disparities? And that’s a question that really needs to be answered.”
After an effort to collect race-based data on those who seek medical assistance in death passed the Canadian Senate by voice vote, advocates feel they have momentum.
“This is why, it seems to be an unstoppable movement, at least at the federal level, to collect race-based data,” Fo Niemi of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) said. “And we need to have cities and we need to have provinces on board.”
And with vaccines being rolled out, it’s believed now is an especially-critical time to start gathering race-based data to fight the pandemic. Rotrand cited the U.S. territory of Washington, D.C., where it was recently revealed 40 per cent of those who had been vaccinated so far were white, in a population that’s 80 per cent Black.
It’s exactly the sort of thing experts say proper data could help prevent.