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Strategy needed as racialized groups make up majority of COVID-19 cases: Somerset West Community Health Centre

According to the Centre, 66 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Ottawa come from racialized groups.
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A healthcare worker prepares to collect a sample to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing site on March 20, 2020. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Wilfredo Lee

COVID-19 data is showing that racialized communities are at a higher risk of virus infections, and it’s time the city shift strategies to address the imbalance, the Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) says. 

During a briefing with City of Ottawa councillors and officials, SWCHC director Naini Cloutier said Ottawa is experiencing a similar trend to what Toronto is experiencing when it comes to the imbalance, and those reports show that 66 per cent of COVID-19 in Ottawa are from racialized communities (in Toronto, it’s 83 per cent). 

“The structural inequities, the structural challenges that have been present for a long time have been coming to light during the pandemic,” she said. “[For example], when someone who doesn’t have the resources and work in low-income jobs — which is the case for the vast majority of racialized people — going to a fixed site can be challenging. If they have been tested positive, then the next step is isolation.”

So if someone is working a low-income job, access to food and money becomes an even bigger challenge when they’re told to recover from, and not leave, their home. 

Another aspect that makes this difficult is often dwellings occupied by racialized individuals are multi-generational, leaving the young, old and everyone in between at risk of exposure.

“We need to build capacity for self isolation and social distancing," Cloutier said. "An equal approach doesn’t work for everyone. What we’re saying is supporting the most vulnerable and most affected communities and reducing the COVID-19 incidence is an effective strategy, rather than a broad strategy.”

Cloutier adds that the intervention needs to be more than just available testing — more protection also needs to be put into place. 

“There needs to be an approach where the social determinants of health, employment, transportation, access to food, access to social distancing, housing, are all important,” she said. 

This includes three proposed steps:

  • First, a pathway for primary care providers that include assessing for those social determinants of health and social support risk flags, like employment, transportation and food
  • Second, Community support resources that include focused messages that speak to community experiences
  • And third, A strategic community priority testing team that will be able to respond to people and communities that are disproportionally hit by the virus

The centre says it is working with Ottawa Public Health data to identify and zero in on the most impacted communities and neighbourhoods to help come up with a plan.



About the Author: Dani-Elle Dubé

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