Data on race and COVID could help design a better pandemic response

November 19, 2020

People on Subway; Image by Alexander Hood, from Pixabay

Image by Alexander Hood from Pixabay

As COVID-19 rates rise across Canada, data shows that racialized Canadians are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Variances in how provinces collect race-based data may affect how they can respond to these impacts, say researchers in the Department of Sociology.

On Wednesday, November 19, Kate Choi and Patrick Denice spoke with CBC Radio One morning shows hosts across the country about a new StatsCan report on COVID-19 mortality rates in Canada’s ethno-cultural neighbourhoods. The professors spoke about the importance of collecting race-based data as it relates to COVID-19 infection rates. Not all provinces collect data on race, infections and mortality. Ontario makes the data available. Manitoba, British Columbia and Quebec signaled they would make the data available but have not yet.

Choi and Denice were part of a research team based in the Department of Sociology at Western which, earlier this year, used COVID-19 data released by the Public Health Agency of Canada and census data about the racial and socioeconomic composition of health regions, units set up by provinces in Canada to administer health care. Their research showed COVID-19 infection rates are significantly higher in health regions with a higher percentage of Black residents, as well as some immigrant groups and Indigenous people.

Speaking on Ontario Morning, Choi said the earlier research showed racialized Canadians tend to live in poorer neighbourhoods, with more dense housings, and a higher share of over-crowded households. They may also have a labour-market disadvantage and be over-represented in front-line work and work that places them in greater exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

“There may be discrimination against this particular group,” said Choi, “which has adverse implications for their mental as well as their physical health.”

While the team was able to put together the data for their research, they think provinces should collect race-based data, to held prepare a stronger response to the pandemic.

“We think collecting these data will tell us not just whether certain communities are more vulnerable to the pandemic, but also why,” said Denice. “If we know why these groups are more susceptible, the interventions and policies being designed to combat the spread could be better targeted and ensure that no one is being left out of the response to the pandemic.”

“Just because you close your eyes to racial inequality, it does not mean the racial inequality will vanish, it just means our ability to address the sources of the vulnerability will vanish” said Choi.

All told, the researchers spoke with 25 CBC radio shows from coast to coast to coast, including Toronto Metro Morning, Ottawa Morning, Ontario AM, Calgary Eyeopener and Vancouver Early Edition.

Listen to the interviews:

Kate Choi on Ontario Morning (Minutes 32:30 – 38:54)

Patrick Denice on Edmonton AM