Premier Doug Ford expressed concern on Tuesday about new data released Monday showing double-digit COVID-19 infection rates in some marginalized communities in Toronto.
“That’s where we have to focus on,” Ford said.
“We go out there, we put mobile testing units up, we get more advertising within those communities, no matter if it’s in the mainstream media or the ethnic media.”
The premier confirmed having read the data in a Toronto Star story published on Monday.
The figures show some lower-income, racialized communities, particularly in the city’s northwest, are seeing infection rates of 10 per cent and higher. The Toronto Star reported Weston and Finch, Sheppard and Jane and Lawrence and Keele are three of the four areas that are seeing infection rates of 10 per cent or more. A community just northeast of the Yonge and Eglinton is the fourth area seeing a high infection rate.
CBC News has not independently confirmed the data in the Star article.
Other communities, including Scarborough and downtown, are seeing their infection rates for the novel coronavirus hovering above seven per cent. Toronto’s current overall infection rate is averaging at about three per cent.
The province’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe shared Ford’s concern but admitted to having only read the Toronto Star article as opposed to seeing the actual numbers.
“That is very concerning,” Yaffe said. “Those rates are high.”
An earlier version of the data was first posted to Twitter by Dr. Kashif Pirzada, an emergency physician in Toronto.
North West Toronto is on fire! This is a snapshot of test positivity rates, good is <1%, 3% should prompt shutdowns, 11% is insane! Racialized communities live here and crowded industrial workplaces; it was an epicentre in wave 1. We have failed them once again <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19Ontario?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19Ontario</a> <a href=”https://t.co/p7tQRxPkyw”>pic.twitter.com/p7tQRxPkyw</a>
In his tweet, Pirzada said a three-per-cent infection rate should prompt shutdowns and for a neighbourhood to have 11 per cent, in this case the Rustic neighbourhood, is “insane.”
Alarms were raised about many of these neighbourhoods, which were seeing disproportionately higher infection rates during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring.
“The disparity in infection rates for this part of the city in comparison to other, better resourced areas is appalling and frightening, but also frankly not entirely surprising,” said Michelle Dagnino, executive director for the Jane Finch Centre, in a statement.
The centre, which is located in one of the neighbourhoods with an infection rate of more than 10 per cent, says it is calling on the government to address the disproportionate impact on the city’s northwest communities.
“These neighbourhoods are spaces with higher numbers of racialized and newcomer residents, and so these are the people who we are failing,” Dagnino said.
“Decision-makers need to come together with other stakeholders including the community sector so we can coordinate immediate responses and long term strategies, not only for recovery, but also to save lives now.”
Neighbourhoods already at increased risk
“Those rates are high and those are neighbourhoods and areas we already knew were at increased risks based on other data,” Yaffe said, adding that there’s a need to continue working with Toronto Public Health to reach these specific populations more proactively.
She suggested increased testing and mobile testing clinics, as well as working with ethnic media to provide more education and social marketing.
“I think the case follow-up there has to be prioritized,” Yaffe said, referencing TPH’s recent contact tracing cutback announcement last week. TPH says it’s now concentrating its efforts on congregate settings such as long-term care facilities and schools.