Asli Farah caught COVID-19 from a co-worker whom she carpooled with to her job at an Edmonton warehouse.
When health authorities sent Farah to get tested, she had to take two city buses — her only means of transport.
Then came self-isolation — holed up in her room for two weeks and unable to get treatment for an infected tooth.
“I remember feeling like I was in jail in my own house,” Farah recalled in an interview with CBC News.
As a recent immigrant to Canada, she faced the additional challenge of a language barrier, making it even harder to access information or medical help.
“I was really sad,” Farah said. “I was in a lot of pain. I feel that people that go through self-isolation should receive a lot of support.”
Farah’s experience reflects the findings of a groundbreaking new study that reveals COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting the health and finances of Black Canadians.
Black Canadians are more likely than other Canadians to seek treatment and experience layoffs due to the virus. They’re also more likely to report feeling at risk on their commute to work, the research reveals.
The study, carried out by the Edmonton-based African Canadian Civic Engagement Council and Innovative Research Group, looks at the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 from the perspectives of Black Canadians and those in the broader Canadian population. Its authors say it appears to be the first of its kind.
The research comes after warnings from advocates, researchers and social agencies across Canada that a lack of race-based data is a barrier to ensuring those most affected by the pandemic get the help they need.
Dunia Nur, president of the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council, said the research tells a largely untold story about the lived experiences of Black Canadians around COVID-19.
“Data will give communities the opportunity to apply for funding and say, ‘This is what it says in Alberta, this is what it says in Ontario, therefore we definitely need support here,'” Nur said.
“Anecdotally, we hear the story, but now the story is alive and is living through empirical research.”
The study’s findings show Black Canadians are more likely than other Canadians to be infected or hospitalized by the disease and nearly three times more likely to know someone who has died after contracting COVID-19.
Black communities are experiencing layoffs, reduced work hours and a reduction in household incomes at higher rates, with men over 45 being hardest hit, the research found.
Fifty-six per cent of Black respondents said their job, or the job of someone they knew, had been affected, compared with the national average of 46 per cent.
The study also reveals why Black Canadians may be more heavily affected by the pandemic.
Findings revealed that while Black Canadians are confident about the precautions they are taking, they feel their daily routines put them at greater risk of catching COVID-19.
They reported at higher rates that their jobs require them to work face-to-face with people and that, no matter how well they protect themselves, they feel their daily routine puts them at high risk of infection. Those who worked in front-line jobs, such as cashiers, personal support workers, nurses and drivers, and who relied on public transit to get to work reported they felt most at risk.
Among commuters, Black Canadians are twice as likely than the national average to feel their commute to work is unsafe, with Black commuters more likely to experience symptoms or seek medical treatment.
“It seems as though they’re just naturally in a higher-risk situation given their socioeconomic and demographic circumstances,” said Jason Lockhart, Innovative’s vice-president and a principal researcher on the project.
The survey was conducted online among a representative sample of 2,322 Canadians, including a representative sample of 400 Black Canadians, from June 17 through June 30.
Emphasizing that their research is based on a small sample size, Nur and Lockhart said it scratches the surface, but they hope it encourages governments to collect more data in areas such as how the virus impacts children in more marginalized communities.
“The more we know about the impacts of COVID-19 in various communities, and perhaps the reasons why there’s a disproportionate impact on these communities, [it] will help governments and help organizations like ACCEC develop policies and programs that are going to help alleviate the disproportionate impact,” Lockhart said.
If we don’t have this data, how can we make decisions?– Jason Lockhart, Innovative Research Group
“If we don’t have this data, how can we make decisions? How can we make public policy that’s going to serve communities?”
Nur said the data also shows why governments should invest more in Black-led community groups, which are largely responsible for creating awareness and helping newer immigrants navigate the pandemic’s many challenges.
“The community is doing a good job in terms of awareness,” Nur said, pointing to numbers that show high levels of taking precautions and seeking treatment.
“However, there needs to be a lot more support for all Black communities nationally across Canada who are actually doing the front-line work.”
A comparable margin of error for a probabilistic sample of this size would be about +/-3 percentage points for the general population, and about +/-5 for the sample of Black Canadians.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.