London·Analysis

Women are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, health unit numbers show

When it comes to COVID-19 cases and gender, the number of female cases reported by the local health unit are 36 per cent higher than male. But the reason has more to do with our health-care system than biology.

Local cases of coronavirus in women are 36 per cent higher than cases in men

When it comes to COVID-19 cases and gender, not all things are equal.

According to data from the Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU), case numbers by gender show 41 per cent male and 59 per cent female.

On its face, the numbers might suggest that women are more susceptible to contracting coronavirus, but a closer look reveals the stark gender disparity in our health-care system.

The MLHU has been tracking cases closely, including those among health-care workers. According to the latest numbers, nearly one in four cases in the region were front-line workers, affecting 154 staff.

When health-care worker data is removed from the regional total, the gender divide becomes a lot more equal. In fact, the results show male cases at 47 per cent and female cases at 53 per cent.

What this reveals is something we've known for years. Women make up the majority of our health-care system workforce and have subsequently taken on the brunt of this highly contagious virus.

A female-dominated industry

Health-care workers screen patients at the Oakridge COVID-19 assessment centre in London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"The [COVID-19] rates in health-care workers here among women reflect the rates of health-care workers who are women, so that in itself is not a uniquely concerning issue," said Dr. Chris Mackie, the medical officer of health for the MLHU.

According to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada, women made up just over 83 per cent of employees across the health care and social assistance sector in 2019.

Mirroring the national statistic, female health-care workers within Middlesex-London made up over 84 per cent of the total health-care worker COVID-19 cases and almost 20 per cent of the total cases for the region. Among health-care workers, 130 cases of COVID-19 were in women, and 24 in men.

Some of those numbers can be attributed to higher testing rates than the general public, Mackie said.

"Part of the reason we're seeing more positives in health-care workers in the area is because we are testing more in health-care workers, so in a sense, it's actually a positive that we can prevent spread to the vulnerable people in health-care settings."

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