Toronto will start tracking race-based COVID-19 data, even if province won’t

Toronto’s public health unit has started the process of developing its own system to collect new data sets for COVID-19, including race-based data.

Board of Health Chair Coun. Joe Cressy told CBC News the city needs to have this information.

“Many have said that COVID-19 is the great equalizer, in that it doesn’t discriminate. But that’s sadly not the truth,” Cressy said.

“What we’re seeing is that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting those who are living in poverty, and whether that’s in seniors homes or in shelters, this is a virus that preys on the marginalized.”

When asked earlier this month if Ontario planned to collect such data, the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, replied that the groups identified to be most at risk are the elderly, people with underlying conditions and those with compromised immune systems.

“So those are all priorities to us, regardless of race, ethnic or other backgrounds. They’re all equally important to us,” Williams answered.

Cressy said that up until now, the province hasn’t shown it has any interest in collecting race-based data.

“That’s the wrong answer, and that’s unacceptable to us at Toronto Public Health,” he said. Cressy said that you only need to look to the U.S. to see the virus has a “disproportionate impact on people of colour.”

Coun. Joe Cresy, who is the chair of the Toronto Board of Health, stands with Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health. Cressy says Toronto needs to collect race-based data on the spread of COVID-19. (Rozenn Nicolle/Radio-Canada)


In parts of the U.S., an overwhelming number of black and Latino residents have died of the virus compared to other groups, even where they are a minority. In Chicago, for example, black residents make up 30 per cent of the population but represent more than 70 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths.

In the 12 states reporting race and ethnicity data around COVID-19, black residents were found to be 2.5 times more likely to die of the virus than the general population, according to the public policy research group APM Research Lab.

Cressy said having this data would inform the way the city responds. “If we don’t know who’s at risk and which communities are most vulnerable, we can’t respond to protect them,” he said.

The city is partnering with other organizations like local health integration networks and hospitals to get access to get information in lieu of provincial data, Cressy said.

“This is not groundbreaking. This isn’t new. Frankly, it shouldn’t even be necessary that local public health units have to do this work themselves,” Cressy said. “This is and should be part of the core mandate at the provincial level.

“But if they are unwilling to do it, we’re unwilling to leave members of our community behind, and we will step up.”


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