Ottawa's poorest neighbourhood is also where COVID-19 is hitting hardest
Rate of infection in Ledbury-Heron Gate-Ridgemont nearly 3 times citywide figure
The Ottawa neighbourhood of Ledbury-Heron Gate-Ridgemont is one of the city's most richly diverse neighbourhoods, but economically it's also the poorest, and experts say discrimination and health inequities are allowing COVID-19 to run rampant there.
The south Ottawa neighborhood, wedged between Alta Vista and South Keys, and bordered by Heron Road to the north, Bank Street to the west and OC Transpo's Walkley Yard to the south, has seen more COVID-19 cases per capita than any other part of the city.
Since the start of the pandemic, at least 331 people in the area of 13,485 residents have tested positive, or roughly 2,500 of every 100,000 people, nearly three times the citywide infection rate of 900 per 100,000.
Hindia Mohamoud, director of the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership, said service providers and community groups are well aware of the high rates of COVID-19 in the ethnically diverse neighbourhood, and have been working hard to try to limit the damage.
"Immigrants and racialized populations withstand a high risk of contracting the coronavirus," she said.
Eleven per cent of the area's residents are newcomers, compared to Ottawa's rate of about three per cent. More than half of the people living in the community are first-generation immigrants, and 65 per cent are non-white.
The area also has the highest rate of low-income families, with poverty affecting 41 per cent of households, according to data from the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. Three-quarters of the households rent, compared to about one-third in Ottawa overall, and families there tend to be larger.
Many residents speak neither English nor French as their first language, and tend to work in health care or other front-line jobs such as cashiers or delivery drivers, Mohamoud said.
"Immigrants and racialized populations are overrepresented in what has become termed 'essential work' during the pandemic," she said.
When people do get sick, it's virtually impossible to stay isolated from other household members in crowded housing, so one case can quickly balloon into three, four or more.
Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has applied for federal funding to create temporary shelter for people with COVID-19 so they don't infect their households, but it's not known if or when that will happen.
Jumping in to help
Kelli Tonner, executive director of the South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre, said her staff has had to pivot from their normal roles running programs for children and seniors, to delivering groceries and helping people collect CERB benefits.
Her staff alone has knocked on more than 2,500 doors in several apartment blocks, trying to spread information about COVID-19, including how to get tested. They also help residents figure out solutions to troubles brought on by the pandemic.
The more you knock on doors and the more you ask people if they're OK and what they need, the more need you're going to uncover.- Kelli Tonner, South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre
Sometimes, those solutions are surprisingly simple. In one example, a worker in west Ottawa helped a person self-isolate simply by replacing a broken cellphone charger so that person could reconnect with the outside world, said Tonner.
"The more you knock on doors and the more you ask people if they're OK and what they need, the more need you're going to uncover," she said.
Tonner's staff also get calls from OPH to help people who have tested positive and those at heightened risk, to see if they need support to self-isolate. Often, people simply need food in order to stay home, she said.
For now, Tonner, whose centre is one of dozens of organizations affiliated with the Ottawa Health Team that have jumped in to try to help stem the spread of COVID-19 in the city, is hoping for action to correct some of the structural inequalities facing the residents of Ledbury-Heron Gate-Ridgemont.
That could mean better housing with larger units, improved access to food, mandated sick days or simply better pay at front-line service jobs, she said.
Mohamoud, whose organization has helped guide the Ottawa Health Teams, wants to see better data on the health status of immigrants and non-white residents to improve the quality of care they receive. She has heard anecdotally that many lack family doctors.
Both believe that even after the pandemic is over, the gaps that COVID-19 has laid bare cannot be ignored any longer.