People of colour are at higher risk from COVID-19 for numerous social and economic reasons, experts say.
Dionne Aleman, an affiliate of the Institute for Health Policy and associate professor at the University of Toronto, said there is evidence showing the Black community gets COVID-19 at an increased rate, with greater hospitalization and worse outcomes.
“We can look at data from other countries, too, to say that, based on what is happening in the U.S., the Black community is getting COVID-19 at a higher rate,” Aleman said.
Among contributing factors is that people of colour tend to be employed in service and public-sector jobs that don’t allow for work from home. Many are on the front lines in health care, at hospitals, long-term care facilities and other areas of the essential economy.
They are also more likely to use public transit or live in multi-generational homes.
Health inequalities have affected the Black and other BIPOC communities for many years in the form of inadequate access to care.
Among the hardest hit communities in Toronto include northeast and northwest areas, which have a high proportion of BIPOC communities and those in lower income brackets.
“Social-economic factors related to employment, less flexibility to be safe in the job versus access to health care and treatment,” Aleman said. “Another issue is higher incidences of comorbidities in Black and other racialized communities.”
Mental health issues are also a major risk factor for Black Canadians in dealing with COVID-19.
“In the Black community, there’s sometimes a little more stigma around mental health issues. I hope that people don’t see it as a weakness of any sort,” said Steve Joordens, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
Joordens, who specializes in helping those dealing with trauma and isolation, said he hoped a silver lining of COVID-19 is that, with mental health concerns so widespread, stigma diminishes.
“If you need medical attention, don’t wait and get it.” he said.
“Go get it as soon as you can, especially if you have underlying issues that are known to increase the severity of a COVID-19 infection,” Joordens said.
Aleman’s advice to the Black community is to get help as soon as possible to decrease the number of people being impacted by the pandemic.
Black communities are also experiencing layoffs and a reduction of household incomes, all the while living in hot-spot neighbourhoods, only increasing their likelihood of contracting the virus.
Lisa Thomas, a youth employment social worker, said more research and resources are needed.
“The majority of people that I work with are without a job are stressed worried. COVID-19 brings even more stress,” Thomas said.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions; this is your health that is on the line,” she said.