Toronto to begin tracking racial and socio-economic data in COVID-19 patients

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Toronto will be asking people who test positive for COVID-19 about their ethnicity and socio-economic status after preliminary findings suggested the virus is disproportionally affecting certain communities in the city.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Toronto’s medical officer of health said that a preliminary analysis of data already collected by public health units has found that people living in areas with the highest proportion of low-income earners, or areas that have the highest proportion of recent immigrants and high unemployment rates, experienced a higher rate of COVID-19 cases, as well as hospitalizations.

“These data represent our friends, our family members and our loved ones,” Dr. Eileen De Villa said. “In public health, we use these data to help us understand how an infectious disease, in this case COVID-19, is impacting and spreading in our community.”

De Villa stressed that the trends, which she said are similar to emerging evidence in other jurisdictions, are based on a study of geographic areas and not individuals. She added that officials will not be able to study a “complete picture” of the trends using area-level data.  

In order to get the complete picture of how the virus is impacting certain groups, Toronto Public Health will be adding socio-demographic questions to their case management process.

“We will be asking all people who test positive for COVID-19 about their race, income, household size, Indigenous identity and First-Nation status,” de Villa said. “This will begin in the near future after we have made the necessary changes to our database to capture this information.”

Researchers have been calling for socio-economic data collection throughout the pandemic, saying that it is likely that marginalized communities are disproportionately contracting or dying from COVID-19. They said the data will be critical in terms of prevention planning and the development of socio-economic policy in the future.

De Villa said that the city didn’t start tracking the data earlier because they were trying to deal with the multiple facets of this “significant emergency.”

There are 6,448 people in Toronto who have been infected with COVID-19, including 639 probable cases. De Villa said that 394 people are in the hospital, and of those patients, 105 are in the intensive care unit.  

At least 469 Torontonians have diedfrom the disease.