People of colour make up roughly 50% of Hamilton's COVID-19 cases: report

The report says people of colour, health care workers and people living in low-income neighbourhoods have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in Hamilton

People of colour, low-income residents, health-care workers and women more likely to get COVID-19

Hamilton released new COVID-19 data that shows who has been hit hardest. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

The most likely person to get COVID-19 in Hamilton is a health-care worker or a woman of colour who lives with between two and five people in low-income housing, according to a new report from the board of health.

And men are more likely to die from the virus than women.

Two months into the pandemic, Hamilton Public Health began collecting more specific data from people with the virus to look at social determinants of health — the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age.

The city notes the data had a low response rate overall, which could affect the reliability of the findings, but says the report is still important.

"COVID-19 has highlighted pre-existing inequities: racialized populations, health care workers and people living in low-income have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in Hamilton," reads the report, which Hamilton's board of health will discuss on Oct. 19.

"These findings are not unique to Hamilton and align with those of other communities."

People of colour overrepresented in COVID-19 cases

Of the 992 cases reported between March 1 and Aug. 31, roughly 51 per cent indicated they were people of colour, despite people of colour making up about 19 per cent of the city's total population.

Meanwhile, white Hamiltonians made up 49 per cent of cases despite making up 81 per cent of the city's population.

That means based on the survey, local people of colour are overrepresented in COVID-19 cases. Despite only accounting for one in five people in Hamilton, they represent one in two infections, the report shows.

The data shows people of colour are more likely to be infected by COVID-19 in Hamilton. (City of Hamilton Board of Health)

Other findings in the report explain why that might be the case.

The report shows 43 per cent of Hamilton's people of colour live in low-income households. Low-income households were also overrepresented in the positive COVID-19 test results surveyed.

Low-income households make up about 19 per cent of Hamilton's population, but accounted for 27 per cent of infections in the data. White residents only make up 14.6 per cent of people living in low-income housing.

Low-income residents are more likely to get COVID-19 according to data from Hamilton's board of health. (City of Hamilton Board of Health)

The report also indicates most positive tests came from households with two to five people. It also notes people of colour, on average, live in larger households. (On average, they have four-person households compared to three-person households.)

These results follow a report from Hamilton's Social Planning and Research Council that showed rates of COVID-19 are higher in Hamilton neighbourhoods with more low-income residents and people of colour.

COVID-19 infects more women, kills more men

The report finds that women make up more COVID-19 cases and says it is "largely driven by gender differences in the health-care worker occupation."

Roughly 20 per cent of positive tests are from people working in health care, a number similar to what was previously reported by CBC News.

Women are more likely than men to get COVID-19, but men are more likely be hospitalized and die because of the virus according to the city's report. (City of Hamilton Board of Health)

That said, COVID-19 hospitalized more men than women and also killed more men.

Indigenous residents were underrepresented in COVID-19 infections, making up just under two per cent of positive tests.

Local Black community leader said data came too late

The report comes after multiple requests from local agencies — including the Hamilton Centre For Civic Inclusion (HCCI), the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic and the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team — back in April, to begin collecting the data.

Kojo Damptey, HCCI interim executive director, said it was too late for the first wave, and likely the second.

Kojo Damptey, interim executive director of HCCI, said the results should have come sooner. (Adam Carter/CBC)

"Why did it take months to say what people were saying? There's a culture of the city not listening to what people are saying," he said.

"We need this information prior so you can be addressing things when they are happening, not when we are about to face a second wave. It doesn't make sense. The people that were being impacted, we could have done something to change their health outcomes."

Maureen Wilson, Ward 1 City Councillor, said there's a conversation to be had about when and how public health intervenes to help marginalized communities get access to care.

"The bigger issue is how to make sure that our policies deal with these deeply rooted issues including the disproportionate affect of COVID on Black, Indigenous, people of colour. And that's a reflection of racial inequality and social exclusion that existed before the COVID crisis," she said.

"Social and racial inequities were observed in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic."

Public health makes recommendations

The report says public health officials have taken a number of measures to try and address some of the issues highlighted. The listed steps include supporting shelters, delivering supplies to those without social supports and mobile testing, among other efforts.

Some of the future plans to address the issues include:

  • Ensuring social service providers who work with vulnerable populations know when and how to access testing.
  • Advocating for basic income principles.
  • Advocating for public policy to protect seniors and low-wage frontline workers.
  • Collaborating with communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including people of colour and low-income communities.
  • Exploring implementation of voluntary isolation centres to minimize household transmission.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.