Board of Health Meeting Update: COVID-19 Recovery, Overdose Prevention, and Addressing Anti-Black Racism

We must continue applying a public health lens to every step we take. That’s as true when it comes to responding to COVID-19 and reopening our city, as it is for stopping overdoses and addressing the public health crisis of anti-Black racism in Toronto.

At today’s virtual meeting of the Toronto Board of Health, the Board moved ahead with COVID-19 recovery planning by approving motions on testing, data analysis, and public health indicators, along with actions to tackle the overdose and opioid poising crisis, and address anti-Black racism in our city.

During the meeting, Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa provided a presentation on indicators that Toronto Public Health will be using to guide the next stages of Toronto’s regional approach to reopening. The Board subsequently approved the following motions:

  • Creation of a publicly available dashboard of COVID-19 recovery indicators related to local Toronto Public Health data;
  • Call for improvements in information and test result sharing between medical labs and local public health units, in order to expedite contact tracing; and,
  • Detailed data analysis by Toronto Public Health staff on COVID-19 cases and occupation, household type, and race and ethnicity, in order to inform ongoing response efforts and to report back to the Board.

The meeting also included a Status Report on Toronto’s Overdose Action Plan. COVID-19 has intensified the overdose and opioid poisoning crisis, by closing many services that people who use drugs rely on. As a result, this April tragically saw the highest number of suspected overdose deaths since September 2017.

The Board approved a number of recommendations from the report, including calling on the federal and provincial governments to support the City’s move towards a safe supply approach. In safe supply programs, people who use drugs are able to safely access legal, regulated prescription opioids as part of treatment. A safe supply approach would increase access to opioid agonist therapy (iOAT) as a treatment option, and would allow community organizations to operate flexible injectable hydromorphone programs. The Board will also urge the Ontario Government to remove the provincial cap on supervised consumption sites, and to support safe supply by adding hydromorphone to the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary. 

At the meeting, I also moved new items to address anti-Black Racism. In addition to officially recognizing anti-Black racism as a public health crisis, the Board approved a motion to prioritize municipal resources to address the social determinants of health, with a specific focus on anti-Black racism.

For far too long, we have focussed on responding to health emergencies, rather than investing in preventative approaches and supports. The evidence is clear that the health inequities that persist in our city are a direct result of the social determinants of health, including race, income, and housing, to name a few.

To truly build a just and healthy city, we must fully address the social determinants of health – beginning with the measures approved today.