A Statistics Canada study found that certain racialized populations in Canada had significantly higher death rates from COVID-19.
The analysis indicates that the death rate from COVID-19 was much higher among racialized people than among non-racialized people. It found 31 deaths per 100,000 for racialized people and 22 deaths per 100,000 for the non-racialized population.
“It confirms what many of us believed, how COVID has essentially targeted racialized people,” said Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
Black people had the highest death rate _ more than twice as high as non-racialized residents. Next come those who identify as South Asian and Chinese.
However, those who were Chinese had a similar death rate to non-racialized people.
The study estimated death rates from COVID-19 in Canada in 2020 and compared them to recently released census data from 2016. Only South Asians, Chinese and Blacks were analyzed due to restrictions on sample size, depending on the study.
Nicole Aitken, an analyst at Statistics Canada in Ottawa, said the results were limited because researchers did not have data on people living in care homes or other institutional living arrangements. At the start of the pandemic, there were deadly outbreaks in care homes across the country.
The study also did not include the effect of COVID-19 vaccines, which were widely distributed from 2021.
The study found that in the general Canadian population, men had higher death rates, but black men had the highest with 62 deaths per 100,000 people. Black women also had much higher mortality than their non-racialized counterparts.
Chinese women had the lowest death rate with 16 deaths per 100,000 people.
The study also explored the effects of low income on the death rate of racialized people after controlling for other risk factors such as age, gender and housing type.
The study found that a person’s socioeconomic status played a role in COVID-19 deaths for all populations except the Chinese.
“The rate of black people living in low income was almost three times higher than the rate of black people not living in low income,” Aitken said.
“So this group? appears to be in a much more vulnerable situation than some of the other populations in Canada.
People living in low-income, crowded homes and apartments had a higher risk of dying from COVID-19.
Banerji said it was clear that many racialized people were at increased risk due to poverty and underlying illnesses. She added that many of them were also in frontline, low-paying jobs where they couldn’t stay home or take sick days.
“This kind of data helps us with public health policy that recognizes the disparity and tries to address it,” she said.
David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto, said it’s important that race and ethnicity be taken seriously as factors in people’s health. He said the data was not available in Canada until recently.
“There’s this interaction between black ethnicity in Canada and low income that’s just deadly for people,” Fisman said.
“When you have a black race and you’re also impoverished, that seems to confer extremely high risk.”
The study said its findings were consistent with others conducted in the United States and elsewhere that have found more severe outcomes among racialized populations.
A study commissioned by the Black Coalition Against COVID in the United States found that infection, hospitalization and death rates were highest among black Americans. This study indicated that this resulted from structural and societal realities, including working on the front lines, living in multi-generational homes and in more populated areas. Health inequalities, including higher rates of diabetes and chronic kidney disease, as well as racism and prejudice within the healthcare system also play a role, the study finds.
The Statistics Canada study said the relationship between low-income racialized populations and COVID-19 mortality could be explained through “multiple pathways.” Low income, inadequate housing and reduced access to preventive health care can increase the risk.
Fisman said the results might not be surprising to people who have seen the virus spread massively in low-income neighborhoods or poorly ventilated workplaces.
He said it shows how important clean indoor air is to health equity.
“It’s becoming easier and easier to see what the mechanisms are behind these disparities,” he said. “A lot of it is just about where people live, work and spend time indoors.”
The study did not analyze the effect of COVID-19 on Indigenous peoples due to data limitations.
Race-based COVID-19 data released in Manitoba last year showed Indigenous people accounted for 17% of COVID-19 infections, despite making up 13% of the provincial population. The province’s First Nations COVID-19 task force has found much higher rates of serious outcomes and deaths among this population throughout the pandemic.