Toronto Taking the Lead on Collection of Race-Based Data for COVID-19

It is essential that we have access to comprehensive public health data in order to fully understand and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We should be collecting as much information about COVID-19 as possible, including disaggregated race-based data, so we can better understand how this virus impacts different groups of people.

As Chair of the Toronto Board of Health, this morning I sent a letter to Board Members regarding how Toronto Public Health is responding to the Ontario Government’s decision not to collect data on race or ethnicity in relation to transmission of COVID-19. The province has jurisdiction over COVID-19 testing, but has indicated that tracking data based on race or ethnicity is not a current priority. 

I believe this is the wrong approach. We know that the biggest indicator of one’s health status is their postal code  not because of where we live, but because of what it can say about who we are. We also know that in Toronto, marginalized groups, including the elderly and people experiencing homelessness, are at an increased risk for COVID-19. 

In other countries, we are increasingly seeing disproportionate impacts of this pandemic on racialized and ethnic groups, including African Americans and Latinx communities in the United States. Access to comprehensive ethno-racial data in Ontario is crucial in order for us to understand COVID-19 and its connection to systemic inequities. 

In response to this absence, Toronto Public Health is partnering with hospitals and other organizations to collect local race-based data and additional information to inform our response. Toronto Public Health is also conducting analysis linking home addresses of COVID-19 cases and area-based estimates of sociodemographic characteristics, in order to examine connections between COVID-19 impacts and socio-demographic groups in Toronto. We are also tracking occupation-based data, in order to understand if some workers and industries are at greater risk of the virus. 

Information is power  especially when it comes to tracking infectious diseases. In addition to Toronto Public Health’s own work,  I will continue to advocate that the Province urgently find a way to provide more detailed data on COVID-19 tests and cases to Toronto Public Health and other local health units. We need all the information we can get to work together and stop the spread of COVID-19.