Do more to protect Black, racialized people against COVID-19, says community group

The upcoming pop-up testing centres are a start, but Teneile Warren and the ACB Network want public health to do more for the region's , hit disproportionately hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public health admits 'more to do,' cites pop-up community testing, isolation site

The upcoming pop-up COVID-19 testing centres are a start. But activist Teneile Warren wants public health to do more for the region's Black and racialized communities, hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

On Thursday, the first of a series of pop-up COVID-19 testing centres in some of Waterloo region's hardest hit communities will set up in the Kingsdale Community Centre in Kitchener's Rockway/Vanier neighbourhood. 

For Teneile Warren, it's a start. 

"These neighbourhoods should have been the priority area [from the beginning]," she said, as a steering member of the African Caribbean and Black (ACB) Network of Waterloo Region. "We're trying to reverse something that shouldn't have gotten this far."

Warren references a 2011 report put out by the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network, identifying Vanier/Rockway and Victoria Hills as priority neighbourhoods, home to a larger number of newcomers, Black and racialized communities.

She, and the ACB Network, want public health to do more for these communities.

That includes, said Warren, a PPE strategy for "disadvantaged residents," better equipping community organizations with COVID-19 resources, a "transparent" vaccine roll out plan for Black communities, including health and community leaders from these neighbourhoods in public health's response team.

"We have to think about all the services that impact why people, marginalized communities, are contracting COVID at higher rates," said Warren.

Black, visible minorities disproportionately impacted

Data released in November by Region of Waterloo Public Health shows the pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black people, visible minorities, lower income earners and people whose first language is not English or French.

It revealed Black people accounted for 16.7 per cent of the region's COVID cases, but make up only 2.9 per cent of its population. Visible minorities made up 63.7 per cent of cases in comparison to 19 per cent of the population.

At that point, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region's medical officer of health, called for a "greater collective community response for groups and neighbourhoods disproportionately affected."

When reached Tuesday, public health cited the pop-up community testing and a voluntary isolation site as work it had done far.

A new pilot project will see COVID-19 tests offered at Kingsdale Community Centre and Victoria Hills Community Centre, in an effort to improve access to testing for neighbourhoods hit hard by the virus. (Paul Smith/CBC)

"The pandemic has heightened the existing health system inequities experienced by these communities," said a statement attributed to Wang, St. Mary's General Hospital president Lee Fairclough and primary care physician lead Dr. Sharon Bal.

"But there is more work to do and we are all committed to working together to address these issues as part of a broader approach."

'Trust matters'

Warren said public health also has to work on building trust. She says that can only happen by engaging more with organizations and resourcing community leaders. She also wants these communities to see themselves reflected in the response efforts.

For the pop-up testing sites, that means having workers on hand who can speak the languages of the community and getting key public health information translated and distributed widely.

"I'm going to hope that we're using Black nurses, that we're using people who are representative of those communities because trust matters."

She hopes these efforts continue.

"After the testing site is down and St. Mary's is gone, who is going to be there to follow up and support?"


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