They’ve been called hot spots. It’s actually ‘code’ for social inequity

More analysis confirming COVID-related racial and other disparities:

People who live in Toronto and Peel COVID-19 hot spots are on average nearly twice as likely to be racialized and about four times more likely to be employed in manufacturing and utilities compared to those in the regions’ other neighbourhoods, a new analysis shows. 

New research from the Gattuso Centre for Social Medicine at University Health Network also highlights how residents of these hot-spot areas are, on average, more than twice as likely to work in trades, transportation and equipment operation and also more likely to meet low-income thresholds.

While the public has heard over the past year that racialized people, those with lower-income status and essential workers are bearing a disproportionate burden of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, the analysis from the Gattuso Centre highlights at a granular level who actually lives in the neighbourhoods hardest hit by the virus, how much money they make, and what they do for a living. 

“When we talk about ‘hot spot’ postal codes, what we’re really talking about is the structural determinants of health. Social inequities and the pathologies of poverty have been driving this pandemic,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, executive director of the Gattuso Centre. “This is further evidence that life-saving measures need to get to neighbourhoods with the highest structural risks –– this at the very least means community leadership driving vaccine rollouts and better safety measures at workplaces.”

Using Census data, the social medicine team looked at demographics in Toronto’s 13 “sprint” strategy communities deemed most at-risk and compared it with the rest of Toronto’s forward sortation areas (the first three characters in postal codes). They also compared hot spots in Toronto and Peel with the remainder of neighbourhoods in those regions, and did a similar comparison of all of Ontario’s 114 hot spots with postal codes in the rest of the province.

In virtually every case, the most at-risk neighbourhoods had, on average, higher proportions of racialized individuals, those who meet low-income measures, people who work in manufacturing and utilities, and those employed in trades, transportation and equipment operation. 

For example, M3N, which includes Jane and Finch and Black Creek, has the most manufacturing and utilities employment, the sixth-highest proportion of people who meet low-income thresholds, the eighth highest employment in trades, transportation and equipment operation, and is the 10th most racialized community out of all postal codes in Toronto and Peel.

Similarly, L6R, in northern Brampton, has the most trades, transportation and equipment-operation employment, the fourth-most manufacturing and utilities employment and is the third-most racialized postal code out of all Toronto and Peel neighbourhoods. 

The only exception the researchers found was in the Ontario-wide hot-spot comparison, in which the percentage of people who work in trades, transportation and equipment operation in hot spots was slightly lower than non-hot-spot neighbourhoods.

“That’s the thing with this data, it also really shows the disparity. It really shows that no, we haven’t all been through the same experience with COVID,” said Sané Dube, Manager, Community and Policy with Social Medicine at UHN, using the example of someone who makes over $100,000 annually, lives in downtown Toronto and can pay for their groceries to be delivered.

“That is very different from the experience from the person who is making $30,000 in a grocery store, has continued to work the whole pandemic and lives in a certain part of the neighbourhood. There’s this idea that we’ve all had the same experience in this pandemic. We haven’t. This really brings that home.”

Laura Rosella, scientific director of the Population Health Analytics Lab at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and a collaborator on the analysis, notes that hot spots are vulnerable for different reasons, which is why connections between policy-makers and the communities are so important.

“The data kind of gives you that first layer, saying we need to pay attention here. Then it’s the conversations with the community that will tell you what the solutions are,” Rosella said. “The data alone won’t tell you what the solutions are. The community will.”

Michelle Dagnino, executive director of the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre, says that while she is not surprised by the data, many people, including many who work in social services, did not realize just how many people in vulnerable areas have continued to go to work throughout the pandemic. 

“I think there was a sense that there were going to be more workplace shutdowns than there ever actually ended up being. The definition of ‘essential’ just ended up being so broad in terms of these workplaces,” she said. 

“Effectively, all of our factory workers, whether they’re manufacturing glass panes or producing clothing or whether they’re delivering factory-made goods through Amazon distribution centres, they have been open the whole time. And the consequences of that in this third wave have led us to a situation where we have seen racialized, low-income workers dying because they’ve had to continue to go to work.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/05/11/theyve-been-called-hot-spots-its-actually-code-for-social-inequity.html

 

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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