COVID-19 variants spread faster in GTA areas with more low-income residents, essential workers: study

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COVID-19 variants spread faster in GTA areas with more low-income residents, essential workers: study


More contagious and deadly variants of the virus behind COVID-19 are disproportionately affecting Toronto-area neighborhoods with the most essential workers and lowest income levels, new research shows.
A pre-print published Friday in medRxiv – an online portal for research that is so far unpublished and not yet peer-reviewed – examines the per capita rates of COVID-19 cases, both as a whole and those confirmed to be variants, between early February and mid-March in various areas of Toronto and Peel.

During the study period, cases of variants emerged more quickly in groups with the lowest income levels and the most essential workers, the research team found.

“While we’re still talking about a third wave, it’s pretty clear in this data where this third wave is,” said author Dr Zain Chagla, infectious disease specialist and researcher at McMaster University at Hamilton, Ontario.

The analysis divided the essential labor rates and the typical amount of income in different areas, into three levels.

It showed that the growth rate of variants was almost 44% in the groups with the lowest income level, double the growth of about 22% seen in the highest income level.

The finding for essential workers was similar, with a growth rate of over 50 percent in regions with the highest levels of essential workers, compared to around 18 percent at the lowest.

“This population was at high risk,” said Chagla. “The same data was shown before the emergence of variants. ”

But these variants add a new dimension to that risk, with an upcoming briefing from Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table expected to show they are shown to be capable of causing more serious illness – and are around. 60% more fatal than the original strain of SARS. -CoV-2.

These variants now account for more than half of the province’s cases and are believed to be predominantly B117, the variant first discovered in the UK.

The study echoes earlier findings

Chagla’s team’s analysis echoes previous concerns of the pandemic over certain neighborhoods and regions known to low-income and essential workers – and distinctively racialized communities – that largely bear the brunt of infections.

The most racially diverse neighborhoods in Canada have reported COVID-19-related death rates more than twice as high as those reported in predominantly white districts, according to the data from Statistics Canada, while City of Toronto data shows that people of color constitute an overwhelming majority of cases.

Various postal code regions in hot spots like the northwest end of Toronto and Brampton have also been consistently identified as having among the highest number of COVID-19 tests returning positive, according to the data of the not-for-profit health research center ICES.

Employees work at Amazon’s distribution center in Brampton, Ontario. in November. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press)

Chagla said his research was limited using only positive and confirmed tests. He said that may not tell the whole story of the infections, which had to be compared to census data to determine neighborhood characteristics.

Still, he said, the results are in line with trends from last year.

“Given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on low-income and racialized people in our communities, I am not at all surprised,” said Dr Naheed Dosani, health justice advocate and palliative care physician who was asked for an outside comment on the research.

“Essential workers have come to the fore to serve our communities, from production plants to factories to warehouses, without the protections they need to maintain their health.

Over 600 cases at one Brampton facility

Chagla noted that the study period was during a lockdown in the area, which meant that while most people were away and less often, essential workers continued to work and commute.

A mid-lockdown outbreak at an Amazon Canada facility in Brampton, for example, made headlines earlier in March after more than 240 cases were identified in the previous weeks, bringing the total number of cases at the site since October to more than 600 – prompting public health officials to order all employees to self-isolate for two weeks.

Canadians living with COVID-19 have the right to access Canadian recovery sickness benefit (CRSB), which was designed to make it easier for workers to follow public health advice urging people to stay home if they are sick.

It provides $ 450 after taxes per week for up to two weeks.

Dr Naheed Dosani, health justice advocate and palliative care physician, says: “Given how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted low-income and racialized people in our communities, I am not at all surprised. “ (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

While provincial officials have continuously insisted that putting in place a paid sick leave program guarantees workers who fall ill with COVID-19 support, Dosani said more needs to be done.

“The reality is that the federal paid sick leave program does not meet the needs of workers facing the pandemic and must take a single day off for testing for COVID-19,” he said. “And the payment doesn’t come back to people for several months. ”

Restrictive public health strategies have also had limited impact in communities known for more essential workers and lower wages, the researchers wrote in their analysis, suggesting the need for supportive strategies “including prioritizing vaccines for address disparities ”.

It’s a recommendation that comes as advocates in hard-hit areas sounded the alarm bells over unequal access to vaccination sites, with concerns about the rollout of pharmacies in Ontario in particular, which did not include sites. in areas like Peel or the northwest corner of Toronto in its first turn.

Chagla said his latest findings confirm what has been talked about throughout the pandemic – that some communities remain at higher risk.

“It’s unfair,” he said.

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