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Canada’s lack of race-based COVID-19 data hurting Black Canadians: experts – Globalnews.ca

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Rachel holds multiple jobs as a social services front-line worker in the Greater Toronto Area.

Recently after a long shift, she left work, went to the grocery store and returned home to her children. Global News has agreed to use a pseudonym for Rachel, as she fears reprisal from her employer.

That night she got a call from a crying co-worker  — a resident they cared for was sick and was sent to the hospital to be tested for the novel coronavirus. Both she and her colleague are Black women, as are most of the relief and part-time staff where she works, she said. 


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While her colleague had learned about this from another co-worker, management did nothing to notify staff that a resident was sick and was now in hospital, Rachel said. 

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“Had the management contacted staff to say ‘Hey, we’re not going to disclose which resident, but we’ll keep you in the loop to the results,’ I would have been satisfied,” she said. 

This is a facility where management or on-call staff would be available to support the residents if anyone decides not to come in due to a potential coronavirus outbreak, she said. 

But the failure to be transparent with staff about the wellness of residents, especially when many managers are able to do their jobs at home, makes her feel they simply don’t care about the safety of her and other Black women taking care of residents.

“It’s disheartening,’” she said. “But when this happens … they don’t have the responsibility to notify us to self-quarantine or watch out for symptoms.






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Toronto Public Health begins tracking race-based data for COVID-19


Toronto Public Health begins tracking race-based data for COVID-19

“It’s the devaluing of my life and the lives of my colleagues,” she said, important to recognize that Black people are over-represented among front-line workers, who bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rachel says there isn’t widespread recognition of racialized workers putting themselves at risk everyday often in jobs they can’t afford to quit. With no national or provincial efforts to collect data about whether Black communities are more likely to be infected or die from the coronavirus, she said she isn’t hopeful policy changes will come about that could provide solutions.

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The impact of coronavirus on Black people

In the United States, data from 29 states shows that the coronavirus has killed Black Americans at a disproportionate rate, according to the Atlantic.

Earlier in April, an analysis by the Associated Press found that 42 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. are Black people, double their share of the population. Health disparities, a higher chance of working front-line jobs, less access to health care and being more likely to live in crowded, denser neighbourhoods are all factors contributing to a higher death rate, according to the AP.

In Canada, race-based data about which groups have been impacted by COVID-19 hasn’t been collected. Toronto Public Health announced on April 22 that it would begin to collect this information so it can address health inequities. 


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Even without that data, the health of Canada’s Black communities has long been a concern and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, according to a statement from Black leaders in health care across Ontario published by the Alliance for Healthier Communities on April 2.

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In Ontario specifically, research shows Black people face barriers to employment and often rely on gig economy jobs, which are more precarious. Black women are more likely to be working front-line jobs as personal support workers (PSWs) or registered practical nurses, for example, according to the same statement.

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A study by Ryerson University in 2009 — the most recent study available — found that 42 per cent of PSWs identified as a visible minority, close to double their share of Canada’s population at the time.

This week, the death of 51-year-old Arlene Reid, a Black woman who provided home care in Peel Region outside Toronto, sparked comments from the union representing community health-care workers across Ontario, claiming PSWs do not receive proper protection.  

Why health inequalities exist in Canada

Black Canadians historically have worse health outcomes due to a myriad of factors that all stem from anti-Black racism — including the types of jobs to which they have access, where they live, income levels and lack of available resources, said Arjumand Siddiqi, Canada Research Chair in population health equity. 

“What we know about the relationship between race and health suggests that it’s almost impossible to imagine that these disparities aren’t happening,” said Siddiqi, who’s also an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

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For instance, Black women are 43 per cent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, according to the Black Health Alliance, a national health advocacy organization. Black women are consistently underscreened for breast and cervical cancer, Global News reported last year.

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Those who face various forms of systematic oppression and a lack of resources as a result almost always suffer the worst health, Siddiqi said. 

Lack of access to safer jobs during the coronavirus pandemic — meaning workers can stay at home — is also a concern for Black communities, as they are currently more likely to be front-line workers, she says.

“Autonomy and income from those jobs also provides us with the resources to eat better and to live in more comfortable homes,” she said. “This is why these kinds of fundamental things about your resources, and your status, start to affect every mechanism to every disease.”

COVID-19 pandemic has ‘highlighted disparities’

Safia Ahmed, executive director of the Rexdale Community Health Centre west of Toronto, says she sees a clear health disparity in the communities her organization serves.

“What COVID-19 has done is that it’s highlighted those disparities,” she said. 


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Ahmed says her organization provides health promotion services to residents in the community of Rexdale and addresses social determinants of health that may prevent them from accessing care. 

Many of their clients are either new immigrants or Black Canadians and have either lost their jobs due to COVID-19 or are working on the front lines, she says. 

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“People in these communities are experiencing food security issues, unemployment issues, and some are struggling to pay rent,” she said. “There are all these other social factors impacting one’s health … not having access to medication, your outcome when you contract disease is worse.”

The announcement that Toronto Public Health will start collecting race-based data for COVID-19 has been encouraging, and she hopes this data will be used to inform decisions and tackle health disparities in communities like the ones she serves, she says. 

But beyond Toronto, the provinces and the federal government need to commit to keeping this kind of data as well, otherwise, it’s difficult to glean a full picture of how minority communities are being impacted, she says. 

The need for race-based data 

The lack of data available, along with the absence of a national conversation on which groups are the most impacted by COVID-19, continues to put minority groups in danger, said Kathy Hogarth, an associate professor of social work at the University of Waterloo.

“When our society is built on inequality, we already have those that are way outside that social safety net,” said Hogarth. “And it makes some bodies disposable.”


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Without data that is collected consistently, it can be difficult to uncover inequalities that currently exist and prevents policy from being shaped to address those issues, she says.

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“Without data, it’s all speculation, and as long as it remains in speculation, we can dismiss it,” she says. “What we need is a very rigorous way of collecting our data that looks at inequalities. I guarantee you there are inequalities; we are not all impacted in the same way.”

As Canada goes through this pandemic, it’s important that we think about how we want to collect data so we can better prepare in the future and work to protect marginalized communities, she says. 

“Though we haven’t put the resources into collecting that kind of data, will we do it now? I wish that we would because I think it’s a detriment that we don’t.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Cross-Canada lab network tracking COVID-19 mutations – CBC.ca

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A network of laboratories across Canada is studying mutations in the genetic footprint of COVID-19 to track patterns of transmission across the country and internationally. 

Led by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, along with Genome Canada, the research is working to identify as many genetic sequences as possible. 

The goal is to understand which sequences are circulating in Canada and compare those to others around the world. 

“Monitoring interprovincial or international spread of the virus will become increasingly important as public health measures are slowly lifted and cross-border travel resumes,” said Natalie Mohamed, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, in a written response to questions.

“Genetic variants may also impact the sensitivity and performance of the current COVID-19 diagnostic methods. By comparing viral genome sequences, we will be able to monitor the spread of these established lineages in Canada.”

The agency said most genetic mutations in the virus are “silent,” meaning they do not modify the virus’s function or make it more dangerous. However, these genetic differences can be used to identify different variations that form a lineage, with a common ancestor and descendents.

Identifying source of new cases

Understanding the variations circulating in Canada will help to identify the source of new cases as travel restrictions are lifted.  

It can also help identify links between cases when investigating outbreaks, which is particularly useful when contact tracing is not available or inconclusive.

The agency said it is too early to tell whether Canada has distinct virus lineages. 

It said monitoring of viral and genetic variants will be key to ensuring the effectiveness of any vaccines and treatments, and can help make sure testing for the virus is accurate. 

“We need to continuously monitor their effectiveness, otherwise we risk missing positive cases,” Mohamed said in reference to testing methods.

The research is being carried out through the Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network (CanCOGen), a consortium of public health and academic institutions, hospitals and large Canadian sequencing centres. 

The project has been funded for two years with $40 million from the federal government, announced in April. 

“We are already submitting our virus sequence data to the public domain databases and will make study findings available to the public as they become available,” said Mohamed. 

Individual virus sequences submitted to open source databases

Although the findings will be released at a later date, the data itself is being shared to open-source databases, like the NextStrain website, as it is generated. 

A spokesperson from the Roy Romanow Lab in Saskatchewan said mutations shown on NextStrain, such as one identified in that province, are “extremely small.” 

“The majority of these changes happen randomly and do not affect the virus in any way,” it said. 

“It’s important to note that currently none of the mutations have been shown to increase infectivity.” 

It said coronaviruses mutate very slowly compared to viruses like influenza or HIV.

The National Microbiology Lab has centres in Winnipeg, Man., Guelph, Ont., St. Hyacinthe, Que. and Lethbridge, Alta. 

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These Canadian species are found nowhere else on Earth – CBC.ca

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What species are more Canadian than moose or beavers? We now have an answer. A new report has catalogued 308 species, sub-species and varieties of plants and animals found in Canada — and nowhere else on the planet.

They include mammals such as the eastern wolf, Vancouver Island marmot, wood bison and Peary caribou; birds such as the Pacific Steller’s jay; and fish such as the Banff longnose dace, Atlantic whitefish and Vancouver lamprey.

But 80 per cent of them are plants and insects — ones you probably haven’t heard of, like the Maritime ringlet butterfly and the Yukon goldenweed.

“Really, I mean, these are the most Canadian species because they are uniquely Canadian — they only live here,” said Dan Kraus, senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and a lead author of the report on endemic species released Thursday.

Most have small ranges and populations, making them vulnerable to extinction. Only 10 per cent are considered “globally secure.”

There are 120 insect species endemic to Canada, including the salt marsh copper. They represent more than half the the endemic species catalogued in the new report. (Colin Jones/iNaturalist/Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Nevertheless only 20 per cent have been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada to determine just how threatened they are.

But they’re species that only Canadians can protect, Kraus said.

“It’s sometimes easy to kind of think that there’s nothing we can do about the global extinction crisis, as Canadians,” he added. “But these are species where their fate is directly in our hands. And if only Canadians will decide if they go extinct or if they survive in the future.”

These are the 27 hotspots for endemic species identified in the new report. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization whose goal is to protect natural areas that sustain plants and wildlife and, in looking for areas to protect, it prioritizes endemic species. It decided to compile a list of such species after realizing that no such comprehensive list existed, Kraus said.

It partnered with the NatureServe Canada, part of an international network that collects and distributes conservation data. By comparing Canadian and U.S. data, Kraus and NatureServe Canada’s Amie Enns came up with a list of species that exist in Canada and not the U.S. They then checked to make sure none of them were found in places like other parts of the Arctic, and consulted with dozens experts across the country.

In the process, Kraus was surprised to discover how many endemic species live in northern parts of Canada and how many we know very little about. In fact, new endemic species were discovered over the course of the two-year study, including a beetle in the Yukon and a new species of quillwort (a type of aquatic or semi-aquiatic plant) in the freshwater estuary of the St. Lawrence.

Many of Canada’s endemic species are found in the north, including Yukon goldenweed. (Bruce Bennett/Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Both were found in “hotspots” with lots of endemic species.

“It may be that some of those hotspots are much larger than what we’ve mapped or there may be additional endemic species in Canada,” said Kraus, adding that excites him as a Canadian biologist. “There’s all these new discoveries that are still waiting to happen in our own country.”

The provinces and territories with the most endemic species are B.C., Quebec, Alberta and Yukon. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Most hotspots are in unique ecosystems, such as the Athabasca sand dunes of Alberta or the Great Northern and Avalon peninsulas of Newfoundland, along with isolated islands such as Vancouver Island, Sable Island or Haida Gwaii, and the few areas of Canada that weren’t covered in ice during the last ice age. Many are already known as hotspots for biodiversity in general, and some are protected.

B.C., Quebec, Alberta and Yukon had the highest numbers of endemic plants and animals.

Kraus hopes the list of endemic species will help prioritize species and habitats for conservation and raise awareness about what Canadians can do about the global extinction crisis.

“But these are species where it’s our piece of that problem and we can we alone are the ones that can solve it,” he said. But that can be good thing, he suggests: “There’s no reason why we need to lose any of these species in the future.”

Fangliang He is a professor at the University of Alberta who holds a Canada Research Chair in Biodiversity and Landscape Modelling and wasn’t involved in the study. 

He said he wasn’t aware of any other projects like this cataloguing endemic species in Canada. He noted that there aren’t very many, compared to the overall number of species, as many tend to cross the border into the U.S., either to the south or in Alaska. For example, the new report found 64 endemic plant species (not including mosses and liverworts) or 109 species, subspecies and varieties,  while He estimates there are about 4,000 plant species in Canada.

But he said studies like this are useful.

“It’s fundamental information — very important, critical for conservation,” he said, adding that especially when resources are limited, “Endemic [plants and animals] in general should really be the priority in terms of conservation.”

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Calgary couple stranded in India by COVID-19 pandemic killed: family – Globalnews.ca

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A retired couple stranded in India by the COVID-19 pandemic were robbed and killed before they could get on a flight back to Canada.

“It’s a tragic loss that we will never be able to refill with anything else,” their son-in-law, Kam Rathore, said Wednesday.

He said Kirpal Minhas, 67, and his wife Davinder, 65, travelled to the Punjab region of northern India in November to check on properties they owned there.

It was the first trip back for the permanent residents, who used to run a transportation company, since they came to Canada in late 2016.


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Rathore said his in-laws were scheduled to fly home to Calgary in early April, but that flight was cancelled as the pandemic ground almost all global air travel to a halt.

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He said family tried registering them online for a Canadian government repatriation flight, but couldn’t because they were not citizens.

Loved ones booked them on another flight arranged through a Vancouver volunteer group in late April, but that, too, was cancelled.

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“At that time, there was no fear for their life,” said Rathore, who added that family were hoping to arrange another flight soon.

Two Canadian-assisted flights are scheduled to leave Delhi for Toronto on June 12 and 15 and are open to citizens, permanent residents and those who obtained confirmation of permanent residence before March 18.


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The couple’s two sons reside in the United States — one in Austin, Texas, and the other in New York — and their two daughters live in northeast Calgary. The couple lived with one of them.

The children were in frequent contact with their parents while they were overseas.

“Since they landed in mid-November, there was a habit of checking on them for even two minutes or five minutes daily, in the morning and in the evening,” said Rathore.

He said his wife became concerned when her parents didn’t return her calls Friday. She asked neighbours in India to check in on the pair. Relatives got word Saturday morning of their deaths.

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Rathore said he’s been told police have arrested a tenant, who was taking care of one of his parents’ properties, and two other men, but charges have not been laid.

He said jewelry, cash, bank cards and phones were taken. Police told him the suspects had been watching his parents’ daily routines for a while.

Rathore said he was told three men overpowered his father-in-law in his bedroom between 7:30 and 8:30 on Friday night and stabbed him multiple times.

He said he understands his mother-in-law was out for a walk, but the assailants were hiding in the home when she returned 15 to 20 minutes later. She was attacked and strangled, Rathore said.

Extended family in India arranged for the couple to be cremated in the Sikh tradition on Tuesday. Their children in North America were devastated to not be able to pay their final respects in person due to ongoing novel coronavirus travel restrictions, Rathore said.


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He said he’s grateful to police in the northern Indian city of Phagwara for making the arrests so quickly.

Under the Canadian Consular Services Charter, only Canadian citizens are eligible for consular assistance.

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“We offer our sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of two Canadian permanent residents who died in India,” Global Affairs spokeswoman Angela Savard said in a statement.

“Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed.”

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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