Ontario to mandate collection of race and income COVID-19 data

All Ontario public health units will soon mandate their data collection to include race and income of infected patients. As Ontario continues to propose methods to control the spread of COVID-19, health experts will look to analyze race-based COVID-19 data to develop novel containment strategies and identify hotspots of infection.

Numerous health units across Ontario, including the Peel Public Health Unit have already began to record the race and occupation of COVID-19 patients. This regulation will mandate race-based data collection in jurisdictions that have not already been doing so.

In the United States, it is known that COVID-19 is most prevalent in areas with lower income, disproportionately affecting Black communities and ethnic minorities. As such, it is possible that Ontario and Canada as a whole follow a similar trend. Expansion of data collection to further include metrics such as race and income could prove vital in directing efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the areas most severe.

“We recognize that some Ontarians may be at a greater risk of COVID-19 infection. This includes racialized Ontarians and individuals with lower incomes”, said Health Minister Christine Elliott.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Health, “individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 infection will be asked additional questions about their race, income, languages spoken and household size”. Although it is encouraged for patients to provide this information, the questionnaire will be optional. Furthermore, the Ontario government emphasizes anonymity and privacy in patients who do wish to provide these details.

As of June 19th, there are 33,095 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario. Currently, the Ontario COVID-19 Data Tool only reports data on age group and sex within their respective health units. Collecting additional data on race and economic status of patients may provide health experts with a more holistic view of the spread of the virus.

“There have been significant impacts to specific communities based on certain indicators such as race and occupation”, said Dr. Lawrence Loh on the race-based data of COVID-19 patients in Peel.

Within the Peel Region, collection of race-based data of infected individuals began in early April. As of June 11th, the most commonly reported cases of COVID-19 were in South Asian patients, contributing to 28% of all cases of COVID-19 in Peel. The data indicates a disproportionate burden of illness on racial and ethnic minorities. For more information, visit the Peel COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiologic Update.

Brampton is responsible for a majority of COVID-19 cases in Peel, and is also home to a large South Asian population. Collection of race-based data is crucial in allowing health experts to direct relief and containment strategies to neighbourhoods in Peel that are at greatest risk. In this case, neighbourhoods in Brampton with ethnic minorities are potential hotspots for health experts to address.

As Premier Doug Ford stated in an earlier press release, “we can’t manage what we can’t measure”. Mandating the expansion of race and income-based data to accompany existing geographic data could be pivotal in developing strategies to slow and prevent the spread of infection in the neighbourhoods hit hardest by the virus. The mandate could push health experts to direct more efforts towards Brampton, facilitating our restart and recovery.