People of colour in Manitoba have seen disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infections, a new report released by the provincial government found.
Slightly more than half of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 who reported their racial or ethnic identity to case investigators identified as Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour (BIPOC), despite making up roughly 35 per cent of the population of Manitoba.
The province said existing inequities are the determining factor for increased risk of COVID-19 infection in racialized communities.
“We know people in BIPOC communities are more likely to live in low-income neighbourhoods, live in overcrowded … multigenerational households,” said Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
“They’re also more likely to have low-wage occupations and be employed in higher-risk occupations such as food manufacturing, service industry, transportation and accommodations, food service and retail.”
People identified in the report as “North American Indigenous” made up 17 per cent of the cases, despite making up 13 per cent of the population of the province.
Filipino people experienced the most disproportionate burden due to COVID-19, according to the report. They make up seven per cent of the population, but 12 per cent of cases, with slightly more women affected than men.
White people, by comparison, make up 48 per cent of cases, but 64 per cent of the population. Population estimates are based on 2016 census data.
Provincial COVID-19 case investigators began collecting data on race, ethnicity and indigeneity (REI) information on May 1. The rate at which the data has been collected varies across the different health regions, the province said.
While the data is considered more reliable when it is collected at least 75 per cent of the time — and the province says it aims to have it collected 90 per cent of the time — Manitoba case investigators asked the mandatory question and recorded the answer in 67 per cent of cases.
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“Public health officials will work to improve access to more reliable data. This means increasing the percentage of times this question is asked and recording in the public health information management system,” the province said.
The disproportionate impact on BIPOC communities reflects patterns that have been observed in other jurisdictions, the province said in its report.
“Systemic racism, that is the differential access to the goods, opportunities and services of society by race, determines where and how people are positioned to experience the pandemic,” the report said.
Collect data to look at systemic racism: professor
University of Toronto public health professor Andrew Pinto has advocated for provinces to collect data on race and ethnicity.
“I think it’s really significant that we have this data now, and it’s also the start in Canada in many ways of being comfortable around collecting data on race and ethnicity and Indigenous identity, and starting to really look at the issue of systemic racism through the routine collection of data — in this case as part of COVID, but also start thinking about this beyond COVID,” he said.
Now that the data has been collected, it remains to be seen what the province does with it.
“I think that this data for Manitoba fits what we’re seeing in other jurisdictions, from the UK to the US to other parts of Canada, which is that COVID is often racialized and is disproportionately affecting certain communities. They put at the start, that this is systemic racism, and really good to see that. and also this is about a bigger context,” Pinto said.
Some factors listed in the report that may increase the risk of infection for racialized people include employment — working in essential services, not having paid sick leave — as well as higher rates of underlying health conditions, inadequate and overcrowded housing, stress caused by systemic racism and discrimination, and barriers to accessing health care and social services.
Other factors that otherwise have effects on health and well-being, such as family and cultural gatherings, strong social networks and communal living, also contribute to higher risks of infection.