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Toronto announces plan to combat disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black communities – Toronto Star

Toronto announces plan to combat disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black communities – Toronto Star

In an effort to address both the disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection and vaccine hesitancy within the city’s Black population, Mayor John Tory announced a $6.8-million plan Wednesday to support community health agencies in predominantly Black communities.

“What is clear during the pandemic is that there are extraordinary impacts that COVID-19 has had on a number of communities within our city, including the Black community,” said Tory, who was joined by Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson and Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of the city’s Board of Health, in a virtual news conference.

Black people, who represent nine per cent of Toronto’s population, make up 26 per cent of the city’s COVID-19 cases, Tory said.

“This is a result of longstanding systemic health inequities related to poverty, related to racism … and lack of access to opportunity, which has been exacerbated by this pandemic,” he said. “We are committed to taking action on this data.”

The Black Community COVID-19 Response Plan will see the city partner with and provide funding to a dozen Black-led and primarily Black-serving community agencies providing health services in the 10 neighbourhoods with the highest COVID-19 case rates. The services will include mobile and community-based COVID-19 testing, culturally appropriate mental health support and targeted communication tools.

“To beat COVID it’s fair to say we must address many of the pre-existing inequities that this pandemic has laid bare,” Cressy said. “That’s what’s required to be all in this together.”

The city also announced that it has established the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity to address a number of concerns regarding COVID-19 within the Black community, including vaccine hesitancy or skepticism.

The task force, which was created in partnership with the TAIBU Community Health Centre in Scarborough and will be chaired by Akwatu Khenti, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, will develop public health recommendations in a final report delivered to the city by April 30.

Dr. Akwatu Khenti, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, is the chair of the City of Toronto's Black Scientists' Task Force on Vaccine Equity.

The task force will also be hosting a series of virtual town hall meetings for the Black community on a range of vaccine-related topics, including how vaccines work, and debunking misinformation. The first town hall is Feb. 13.

In an interview, Khenti said the ultimate purpose of the task force is to reduce the disproportionate rate of COVID-19 infections among Black people and save lives.

“But one of the main vehicles to attain that purpose is to address the vaccine hesitancy that exists across many Black communities.”

In its announcement, the city said Black people represented 30 per cent of vaccine-hesitant Canadians, but it could not provide a source for the statistic at press time. In the U.S., polls have shown significantly lower levels of trust in the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines among Black and Latino people.

Distrust of the health-care system by some Black people is rooted in both historical and contemporary injustices, Khenti said. “People don’t think that Black people’s lives are valued. That’s the bottom line.”

That distrust, combined with misinformation fuelled by social media, leads many people to have concerns about how the COVID-19 vaccines were developed and whether they’re safe, Khenti said. One of the goals of the task force will be to address those concerns, he said.

Paul Bailey, the interim executive director of the Black Health Alliance, said that when it comes to the question of vaccine hesitancy, the onus is not only on Black people. “We want to encourage governments and drug makers that they have a responsibility to build vaccine confidence,” he said.

Bailey’s organization will be aiding that effort by developing COVID-19 communication tools specifically for Black communities in partnership with community health organizations.

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“What we want to make sure we do is provide a trusted source where possible for accurate information about COVID-19, how it’s affecting Black communities and accurate information about the vaccine,” he said.

Bailey said it doesn’t make sense to try to fight individual pieces of misinformation. “I think we have to find proactive and positive ways of spreading the correct information and connecting people to resources so that they can have their questions and concerns answered.”

Wednesday’s funding announcement and the collaborative approach the city is taking is a step in the right direction, Bailey added. But it won’t address the underlying issues that have made Black people more vulnerable to the virus in the first place.

“We still need to be talking about paid sick days. We still need to be talking about packed buses. We still need to be talking about precarious work, and poverty, and housing.”

Published at Thu, 04 Feb 2021 00:45:00 +0000

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Written by Riel Roussopoulos

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