WATERLOO REGION – Local advocates want to see public health departments collect data on race to better understand how COVID-19 affects minority groups.
It is difficult to know whether some minorities will be disproportionately affected by the virus because of systemic barriers they may face, said Lang Ncube of the African, Caribbean and Black Network of Waterloo Region, a local advocacy group.
“We can’t even talk about the racial disparities that exist without the data being collected. We need to know what the gaps are so we know how to address them,” she said.
The group is circulating a petition to ask public health units across the country to collect more data from positive COVID-19 cases including data on income and occupation.
South of the border, cities such as Detroit, New York City and Chicago are seeing disproportionate numbers of Black and Hispanic individuals infected with COVID-19 and dying from the virus. Racialized minorities in the U.S. face many inequalities, such as access to health care and income inequality, and Ncube said this kind of racial discrimination doesn’t stop at the border.
“If that is happening in the U.S. it is very likely it is happening in Canada, too.”
Ncube said the region should take initiative and collect race-based data because there is no way to know how other groups are affected by the virus without widespread testing and detailed data collection.
“A lot of people right now don’t even know if they’re positive,” she said. “We do need to make sure tests are available to everybody so our data is not skewed.”
Toronto Public Health announced last week it will begin collecting race-based data. While Ncube said she is glad to see the city take initiative, she doesn’t want to see smaller cities get left behind.
Waterloo Region has a large immigrant population and many of those immigrants work in fast-food restaurants and grocery stores, Ncube said. They are front-line workers who are putting themselves at risk, Ncube said. We need to know how our racialized and Indigenous populations will be affected by this virus, she added.
Region of Waterloo Public Health said it will not collect race-based data until the province issues a directive to do so. The provincial government said earlier this month it will not collect race-based data.
“We are right now very focused on our efforts in long-term care homes and retirement homes where there are significant issues,” Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, acting medical officer of health, said last week during a media briefing.
“In terms of our data collection and analysis … that’s all done to inform actions. The long-term care home and retirement home situation continues to be our top priority right now.”
Ncube said the region shouldn’t wait for the province to decide it’s time to start collecting race-based data.
“We can always be innovative. Just because we are collecting statistics for one thing doesn’t mean we can’t do it for something else.”