Toronto Public Health releases new socio-demographic COVID-19 data

Given Toronto’s racial diversity, large number of newcomers, and high proportion of people living with lower-income, Toronto Public Health (TPH) launched important work to understand if Toronto residents were also inequitably affected by COVID-19. Today, TPH has released the findings and trends from recently collected individual-level COVID-19 case data on reported ethno-racial identity, household income, and household size. This information is key to understanding who is being impacted by the outbreak, and to inform public health actions.

TPH added socio-demographic questions to the case follow-up process to better understand and strengthen capacity to address whether or not COVID-19 may be disproportionately affecting certain people in our city. The data was collected from people infected with COVID-19 and who answered voluntary questions on these topics.  These data are collected at the individual case level but being reported as overall data summaries and trends. This ensures that data are not identifiable and remain confidential.  While there are some limitations with these data, they provide powerful insight into how COVID-19 is impacting our community.

Previous area-based findings suggested that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were more commonly reported among those living in areas of our city with higher proportions of low-income earners and recent immigrants.  Certain racialized groups were found to be over-represented in areas with higher COVID-19 case rates, including people who are Black, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Latin American.

This first release of individual level data findings captures information collected from May 20, 2020 to July 16, 2020 and shows that approximately:

  • 83 per cent of people with reported COVID-19 infection identified with a racialized group
  • 51 per cent of reported cases in Toronto were living in households that could be considered lower-income
  • 27 per cent of COVID-19 cases were among individuals who live in households with five or more people

The City of Toronto has begun engaging with community agencies and organizations that represent and serve communities that are over-represented in reported COVID-19 to share these preliminary findings, to hear and understand their concerns, and to identify areas of potential collaboration to help address these disparities. This includes continuing to recommend areas for enhanced testing, including pop-up centres and targeted health promotion messages to help reduce virus spread and prevent further transmission.

More information: https://www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-latest-city-of-toronto-news/covid-19-status-of-cases-in-toronto/

Quotes:

“The data that has been collected and presented by Toronto Public Health will help us in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing us to help specific neighbourhoods that we know are being more severely impacted by COVID-19. Learning more about the impacts COVID-19 is having on our residents will not only allow us to respond in the interim, but in the long-term we can develop better services, programs and policies that address these findings and future challenge we may face.”

– Mayor John Tory

“In public health we have long known that it’s your postal code, rather than your genetic code, that is the biggest driver of health. The social determinants of health – race, income, housing status – have long determined who gets sick, who lives, and who dies. This has always been the case: COVID-19 just exposed it for all to see. Our task going forward is to use this data to further inform our response, so that we can protect vulnerable residents and beat this pandemic.”

– Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York), Chair of the Board of Health

“While COVID-19 has affected all of us, unfortunately it has had a greater impact on those in our community who face greater health inequities.  As we continue to expand our understanding of this virus and how it has impacted our residents, the pandemic has also highlighted existing issues related to the social determinants of health that need to be better addressed.  I look forward to working with our health system, community and government partners on actions to keep all of our residents as healthy as possible.”

– Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health