Visible minorities make up 27% of London's COVID-19 cases

Numbers in a report from the Middlesex-London Health Unit suggest a trend playing out in the United States may also be happening in southwestern Ontario: that COVID-19 is affecting a disproportionate number of people from minority groups. 

Numbers suggest trend in other countries is playing out here: minorities are being hit harder

Rapid tests could detect infection in people who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, and prevent COVID-19 from spreading. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Numbers in a new report from the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) suggest a trend playing out in the United States and other countries may be happening in Canada: that COVID-19 is affecting a disproportionate number of people from minority groups. 

A report coming to Thursday's meeting of the local board of health says 27 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the region are patients who self-identify as a visible minority. As of 2016, visible minorities in Middlesex-London represented 17 per cent of the population.

The data was gathered as part of an MLHU initiative to capture social determinants of health on a voluntary basis from patients. Since the outbreak began, the region has had 590 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 57 deaths.

Canadian health authorities typically don't track race or ethnicity as part of their data collection around COVID-19, something that's drawn criticism from some academics and health officials.

During follow-up meetings with COVID-positive patients, MLHU asked for socio-economic information including:

  • Race
  • Total family income
  • Occupation
  • Homeless/underhoused
  • Indigenous identity

The report says MLHU took the initiative to collect this data "to address health inequities and improve health outcomes".

MLHU officials were able to collect race information from about 87 per cent of confirmed cases while 86 per cent provided income information. 

Race information is crucial, researcher says

Kate Choi is a social demographer at Western University who recently co-authored a pre-print report that used anecdotal stories and census data to find that Black and immigrant communities are being disproportionately infected by COVID-19.

While she'd like to see more data than the summary included in the report to London's health board, she said the numbers suggest Canada may be following a trend seen in other countries, including the United States and Brazil. 

"The numbers for London are very much in line with the numbers you have seen across many different countries: that racial minorities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19," she said.

Choi said collecting race information from patients can improve health outcomes of vulnerable groups.

"If you have the information and know who are the vulnerable populations, in a pandemic situation you can direct and target scarce resources to those vulnerable individuals," she said.

On the question of household income, the report's summary of the data is less definitive. 

  • 27.5 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases indicated an annual household income of less than $60,000.
  • 31 per cent indicated an annual household income of greater than $60,000
  • 30 per cent stated they did not know their household income.
  • 11.5 per cent preferred not to answer.

The median household income before taxes was $64,797 for all Middlesex-London households in 2015.

And while the MLHU report says patients were asked about homelessness and under-housing, any data that came from those questions are not mentioned in the summary included in the health board meeting agenda package. 

The report says the health unit will continue to collect the data and play a role in standardizing "data on race and other social determinants of health within public health programs and services."

The report will be presented at Thursday's meeting of the board of health.


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