Toronto reveals positive COVID-19 test rates by neighborhood

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People sit in an alleyway and wait to enter a COVID-19 assessment center at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto on September 28, 2020.

Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

About 400,000 Torontonians live in neighborhoods where more than 5% of COVID-19 tests returned positive in early October, according to new data that shows places with the highest rates of positive test results are in the region. hard-hit northwest part of town.

The two neighborhoods with recent test-positivity rates exceeding 10% – Brookhaven-Amesbury and Black Creek – also had some of the city’s lowest per capita testing rates, a sign that the area’s predominantly poor and racialized residents have need better access to testing.

Toronto is the first major city in Canada to publish COVID-19 positivity rates and per capita testing rates by neighborhood.

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A high rate of positive test results may be a sign that many COVID-19 infections are going undetected. New data from Toronto, provided to the city by the province, should provide clues as to where the virus is circulating more widely than the number of cases alone suggests.

However, Toronto public health officials and other experts have said local test positivity rates should be interpreted with caution as they are highly dependent on testing practices.

For example, if local health authorities make testing more widely available when a neighborhood has a major outbreak, the proportion of tests that come back positive would be much higher than if the tests were distributed randomly to people without COVID symptoms or contacts. -19 with known cases.

The World Health Organization recommended in May that the positivity rate remain below 5% for at least two weeks before governments consider relaxing rules meant to slow the spread of the virus.

City Councilor Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said the new data on test positivity is illuminating when compared to other metrics.

“The northwest of our city has high positivity rates, a high number of cases and low testing rates. You put it all together and you start to realize that some neighborhoods are being battered by this virus, ”he said.

The most recent citywide positivity rate is 3.1%.

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During the week of October 4, the rate of positive test results was over 5% in 21 Toronto neighborhoods with a combined population of just over 400,000. Nearly 1.3 million Torontonians live in neighborhoods where the test positivity rate was 3% or more that week, according to a Globe and Mail analysis.

In the week starting September 27, the Toronto neighborhood with the highest positivity rate was Rustic, a pocket northwest of the intersection of Jane Street and Lawrence Avenue West, where 14.3% tested came back positive.

The neighborhood had 19 relatively modest confirmed cases between September 25 and October 15, but it had a high test-positivity rate and a low testing rate – only 9.9 tests were done in the week of September 27 per 1,000 rustic residents, one of the lowest rates in town. “Taken together, these indicators suggest the [test-positivity rate] may be motivated by the ability to test, whether it is access to a test or an adoption issue with people who do not request testing, “said Sarah Collier, head of surveillance and epidemiology on Monday. at Toronto Public Health, Toronto Board of Health. “Therefore, further tests could be done to capture asymptomatic and presymptomatic cases in order to stop the spread of the virus.”

In contrast, access to tests was probably not an issue in Little Portugal, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city center, where the test positivity rate the week of September 27 was 7.2%, but the Per capita testing rate was among the highest in the country. the city, Ms. Collier said.

At the same meeting, Toronto Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa announced that collection of demographic information on people infected with COVID-19, including their race, resumed on October 9 after a hiatus from a week triggered by an influx of new cases.

Angela Robertson, executive director of Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center, told the board that “the ease with which the suspension was implemented is of deep concern.”

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Ms Robertson, who spoke on behalf of a black health equity task force convened at the start of the pandemic, also urged the city and province to do more to help residents of the Northwest, including developing mobile testing and dealing with overcrowding on local buses. routes.

The council on Monday approved a health equity action plan designed to address some of these concerns.

With a report from Chen Wang

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