Low-income areas of Ontario have felt the brunt of COVID-19 with each wave of the pandemic, according to the province’s latest data.
In new modeling released Thursday, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table says this finding was evident even in the fifth wave powered by the Omicron variant.
Consistent with previous waves, low-income neighborhoods in the fifth wave experienced a death rate two to two and a half times higher than the death rate recorded in the highest-income neighborhoods.
Data shows that low-income neighborhoods in Ontario have had the highest COVID-19 death rates in all five waves of the pandemic.
Given these findings, doctors say they are concerned that COVID-19 could continue to disproportionately harm people from poor and racialized communities in Ontario if all three levels of government do not invest in safety nets. of social security.
Lauren Cipriano, a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Modeling Consensus Table, said these trends have been evident since the pandemic first swept through Ontario more than two years ago. Cipriano is an associate professor at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry and the Ivey Business School at Western University.
“It’s something a lot of people have been talking about since the early days of COVID,” she said.
Cipriano said the results show Ontario has yet to learn how to protect marginalized communities from a greater pandemic burden. She said the trends are likely to continue unless steps are taken to address the disparities.
Mask mandates in most indoor settings in Ontario are set to be lifted on Monday. “I certainly fear that what we’ve already seen, which is a disproportionate impact, will be compounded,” she said.
Actions needed to reduce impact of COVID-19, says professor
Cipriano said officials can reduce the impact of COVID-19 on low-income neighborhoods by maintaining high safety and protection standards in the workplace, ensuring there are ventilation standards high in workplaces and schools, and engaging in outreach to marginalized and racialized communities to overcome barriers to immunization.
According to Cipriano, people in low-income communities have a higher risk of exposure to the virus through their employment in the service sector, are less likely to have received a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and are more likely to live in high-density multigenerational households.
While high-income people are more likely to be able to work from home or work in well-spaced and ventilated offices, low-income people are more likely to be front-line workers with a large number of contacts on their workplace or working in environments with substandard ventilation systems, she says.
Additionally, low-income people are more likely to have more than one job, use public transport to get to work, and be exposed to the virus at work. They are less likely to have paid sick leave or the ability to take a sick day without jeopardizing their job.
Regarding vaccination rates, she said barriers to access in low-income areas include childcare, transportation and time off for appointments. She said it became apparent after the third wave, when vaccines became available, that lower-income communities had lower rates.
Cipriano said low-income communities were among the first affected by COVID-19 and the impact of public health measures. People in low-income areas were more likely to lose their jobs or have their jobs changed without safety nets in place. And they were more likely to choose riskier ad hoc forms of employment that increased their exposure to the virus, she said.
The science table recommends wearing good quality masks indoors, staying home when sick, and getting fully vaccinated.
“Anyone can wear their mask,” Cipriano said. “There’s still a lot of COVID in our communities.”
Difference in death rates ‘staggering’, doctor says
Dr. Andrew Boozary, primary care physician and executive director of social medicine at the University Health Network, said the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on low-income neighborhoods has been a “consistent theme” throughout the pandemic.
The difference in death rates between low- and high-income areas is “staggering”, he added.
“One of the really important things to recognize is that this has been consistent throughout the pandemic. It’s not about individual bad choices or individual failures. It’s really about the risks that have been imposed to people,” he said.
Low-income areas in the GTA include the City of Brampton, parts of the Scarborough District, and North West Toronto. Neighborhoods in these areas have higher racialized populations, more economic deprivation, more immigrants, refugees and newcomers, and higher housing density, Boozary said.
There is talk of learning to live with COVID-19 and Boozary says that means change not to strengthen social safety nets but to place responsibility on individual choices. People living in poverty have not had the privilege of staying in their homes, have been on the frontlines of essential work and have been underhoused or homeless throughout the pandemic, he said.
People will be left behind if trends continue, doctor says
Given the results, the idea that society can learn to live with COVID-19 suggests the status quo is acceptable and it is not, he said. That means COVID-19 and long COVID will be concentrated in low-income areas, he added.
“If we don’t see real action on the policies that are needed, what we’re saying is we will accept and continue to accept that COVID has a disproportionate impact on poor neighborhoods and racialized communities,” he said. he declared.
By real action, Boozary said he meant investments in ventilation and air filtration, paid sick leave, access to vaccines and high-quality masks, access to primary care and supportive housing.
“If we don’t address these very serious health disparities, very many people will be left behind and face much worse health than when the pandemic started,” he said.
Dr. Danyaal Raza, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital at Unity Health Toronto, said providing adequate and accessible paid sick days, creating permanent full-time jobs instead of offering part-time jobs and granting permanent resident status would make all the difference. .
“None of this link between low income and high rates of COVID-19 or other diseases is inevitable. We have the policy tools, both through social, economic and health policy, to address this problem,” he said.
Raza said the social, health and economic policies needed to protect vulnerable people from COVID-19 are the same as those needed to protect people from disease and ill health in general.
“We must continue to focus on implementing these policies,” he said.