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Ontario to begin collecting race-based data during coronavirus pandemic

The COVID-19 Assessment Centre is located at Michael Garron Hospital on Coxwell Avenue as the Province of Ontario declares a state of emergency to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Toronto. March 17, 2020. GETTY IMAGES/The Toronto Star/Steve Russell

Ontario will soon start collecting race-based data during the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand how communities are being impacted by the virus.

The announcement was made during Wednesday’s provincial health update when the Chief Medical Officer of Health said the province would soon begin this process, after consultants said it was necessary to collect socioeconomic status (SES) data.

“Not just for the sake of having it collected, but then how are you going to use that to change your policy and target your programs to the unique settings,” said Dr. David Williams. “Racial ones as well. We want to know which ones in Canada are important to us, such that they would inform program or policy decisions, but not one of actually encouraging any type of racial profiling in that regard.”

Dr. Williams said the data could also help to identify which populations are at risk, particularly as public health measures are eased and more efforts are geared towards containment.

Just recently, Public Health Units in both Toronto and Peel Region announced their offices would begin collecting ethnoracial data to better inform the regions response to the virus.

Provincial health officials say questions will be added to the current questionnaire distributed to patients, adding that they will be collaborating with health equity experts to better inform their data collection process.

“We have been working on the questions that should be asked and we’re in the process of getting the questions added to the basic questions asked by a health unit,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health. “They will be questions that will be answered on a voluntary basis because they’re not included in the anti-racism legislation.”

In the U.S., some states are reporting that African Americans are contracting and dying from the virus at higher rates. Officials say the data collected in these regions is helping to create policies with these communities in mind.

In previous weeks, CityNews asked the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care why the province wasn’t collecting race-based data.

A spokesperson said it was because health wasn’t included in the Anti-Racism Act that allows governments to “mandate the collection of race-based data through regulation in order to measure and address systemic racism.”

 

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