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Lower income people, new immigrants at higher COVID-19 risk in Toronto, data suggests

New numbers from Toronto Public Health seem to suggest the COVID-19 pandemic is more adversely affecting people with lower incomes in Toronto, alongside newcomers to the city.

City officials are set to provide an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in Toronto at 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday.

You can watch that news conference live in this story.

The city’s figures, which include cases spread within the community recorded up until the morning of April 27, found the group with the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases.

The group — or quintile, as public health refers to it in its data — has 113 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 73 cases per 100,000 people in the highest-income group.

The difference between the highest and lowest income group is similarly pronounced when looking at hospitalizations. There were 20 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the group including those living in the lowest income areas, compared to nine per 100,000 in the highest income areas, according to the data.

Toronto Public Health applied the same process to newcomer data, and found similar results.

The group with the highest percentage of recent immigrants also had the highest rate of COVID-19 cases, with 104 per 100,000 people. The group with the lowest percentage of recent immigrants had the lowest rate, with 69 cases per 100,000 people.

Again, a similar trend concerning immigrants emerged for hospitalizations. The group with the highest percentage of recent immigrants had the highest rate of hospitalizations with 18 cases per 100,000 people, while the group with the lowest percentage of recent immigrants had the lowest rate, with 8 cases per 100,000 people.

“An important component of the data story is to understand if COVID-19 is affecting certain groups in our community more so than others, so we can then better inform prevention strategies,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health, in an email.

“This would allow public health to collaborate with communities to support the development of prevention strategies by the community for the community.”

The city’s figures are similar to provincial data collected by non-profit research institute ICES, which analyzed COVID-19 testing data in Ontario up to April 30.

ICES found that when compared with Ontarians who had not been tested for COVID-19, those who had been tested and those confirmed positive were more likely to live in lower income neighbourhoods.

People who tested positive were also more likely to live in neighbourhoods with a “relatively greater concentration of immigrants and visible minorities,” according to the report.

The province hasn’t been collecting race-based data for COVID-19 infections. When asked last 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.

Toronto announced it was developing its own system to collect new data sets for COVID-19, including race-based data, in April.

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