Daily increase in COVID-19 cases in Brampton concerning, Peel's top doctor says
Community leaders say there may be a language barrier when it comes to public health messaging
Brampton is reporting roughly 200 new COVID-19 cases a day and Peel Region's top doctor says the number is concerning given that hospitals are at capacity and many residents in the city work in essential services.
"This deeply concerns me because if even 10 per cent of our current active cases, those individuals, require hospitalization, our hospitals will continue to be challenged," Dr. Lawrence Loh said on Wednesday.
Loh reported at a weekly news briefing that Brampton had 1,874 active cases as of Tuesday afternoon.
Peel Public Health has investigated a total of 12,744 cases in Brampton since the pandemic began. Of that number, 99 people have died and 10,771 cases have been marked as resolved.
On Wednesday, the Ontario government said Peel Region had 463 new daily cases, surpassing that of Toronto, which had 410.
According to the Nov. 13 Peel weekly COVID-19 update, from May 31 to Nov. 7, Brampton's test positivity rate was 13.3 per cent, while Peel Region's rate was 10.2, Caledon's rate was 9.1 and Mississauga's rate was 7.1.
"I remain concerned about Brampton and the overall challenges that we face," Loh said.
"I have always expressed my view that the criticism of this great city is completely unfounded. Sure, some people will focus on pandemic fatigue and the wilful ignorance of the rules. But I have always been clear that Brampton's picture is largely driven by disparity."
Loh and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said at the briefing that high numbers of local residents work in essential services, producing and providing necessities, and at workplaces where people are not able to work from home. If precautions are not taken, the workers are vulnerable, Loh said.
"Bramptonians are taking on risks in this pandemic to maintain everyone else's safety and standard of living," Loh said.
Brown went further, calling on people in the Greater Toronto Area to show appreciation for the "unsung pandemic heroes" in Brampton. These include people who work in factories, industrial settings, transportation, logistics and food processing.
"I've seen some finger-pointing online with people saying: 'Why are numbers higher in Peel? Why are numbers higher in Brampton?'" he said.
"Brampton makes up some of the highest percentages of essential workers," Brown said. "Rather than finger-pointing at people who are taking on necessary work, I really believe we need to say: 'What can we can do to support them?' They have our back. We should have theirs."
Watch | CBC's Ali Chiasson asked three leaders in culture, health and mental health why one Brampton neighbourhood has the highest highest test positivity rate in Ontario:
Community leaders, however, told CBC Toronto that Brampton's test positivity rate is high relative to other municipalities in the GTA in part because there may be a language barrier when it comes to public health messaging.
That's despite a translate widget on the web page of Peel Public Health that allows people to translate all web content into 10 languages.
Maneet Chahal, co-founder of SOCH Mental Health, a promotion initiative in the South Asian community in Brampton, said there is a gap in messaging when public health information is broadcast primarily in English.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, I was finding in the South Asian community a lot of people were looking at South Asian networks and relying on information that was being released in India," she said.
"And a lot of information even circulates on WhatsApp. So some of the things that we talk about in our workshops is, this WhatsApp news, is it actually credible?"
Imam Zahir Bacchus said he is trying to bridge the gap in messaging through the mosque in his community.
"We're telling them in the language that they understand the health procedures and the rules and so on and so forth," Bacchus said.
"It's not fair to say that people are just ignoring the rules in Peel. And I don't think that's fair because the dynamics are different here."
Amanpreet Brar, a surgeon, said: "During the pandemic, my mom continues to work in a manufacturing factory. When I talk to her, she fears losing her job if she doesn't go to work.
"A lot of these jobs are on temporary basis through employment agencies. There's no permanent contracts. They don't have health insurance for prescription medicines. They're really afraid of losing their job."
Brown acknowledged that there might be a problem, but said Peel Public Health is "starting to adapt."
"The city communicates in 10 languages," he said. "Traditional media is not the main source of news for many newcomers so it is fair commentary that communication needs to adapt."
According to the weekly update, the most likely exposure settings for confirmed cases in Peel Region, reported in the last 14 days, are: household, community, close contact, outbreaks in institutions or congregate settings, travel and outbreaks in workplaces.
With files from Ali Chiasson