The City of Toronto is taking additional steps to drive down COVID-19 infection rates and encourage vaccination among Black residents, a group that has suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.
The commitment comes in the form of the new Black Community COVID-19 Response Plan, a targeted strategy announced by the city on Wednesday.
The plan will rely on partnerships with 12 community organizations to deliver enhanced services such as culturally responsive mental health supports, food access programs and mobile testing services, among other initiatives.
“By investing in Black-led and Black-serving organizations, we are ensuring that residents in our city who need help and who have been COVID-impacted the most are receiving what they actually need,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory.
City statistics show Black Torontonians have made up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases during the course of the pandemic. Despite making up just nine per cent of the city’s population, Black residents have accounted for 26 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Toronto.
Black residents are also suffering a similarly high percentage of serious illnesses due to COVID-19, with Black patients making up 24 per cent of Toronto residents currently hospitalized with the disease. People of colour account for an overwhelming majority, 79 per cent, of total cases in Toronto.
The enhanced services will be offered in 10 neighbourhoods featuring the highest proportions of Black residents and high COVID-19 case rates. The city is committing $6.8 million to this targeted plan, though some of that funding is accounted for in previously announced measures.
“This allows us to scale up this work that we’re doing and reach more citizens at a bigger scale,” said Paul Bailey, interim executive director of the Black Health Alliance, one of the groups involved in the program.
Bailey and other community health leaders have been advocating for a more targeted approach throughout the pandemic. He said the city’s enhanced strategy will amplify the work being done by organizations like his.
“We’re hoping that we can reduce case numbers and keep Black Torontonians safe,” he said.
Black Torontonians more likely to express vaccine hesitancy
The new plan will also look to confront vaccine hesitancy, which is expected to be a challenge facing Toronto’s Black community.
Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson noted that Black residents are “less likely to line up for vaccinations against the virus.”
City officials cited long standing equity disparities and newer challenges such as social media disinformation as contributors to the problem.
Efforts to reduce vaccine hesitancy among Black residents will include a series of virtual town hall meetings led by the city’s Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity, a group that features Black experts on vaccine development and public health.
The town hall meetings will include discussions on “the historical and contemporary issues of trustworthiness,” among other topics related to the scientific and cultural factors around inoculations.
The city will also try to provide vaccine education through WhatsApp and other social media channels.
“We’re trying to do the work to make sure people have access to trusted sources, accurate information,” said Bailey.
The city plans to develop a Black-specific vaccine plan by April 30.
Officials say they will also develop targeted vaccination strategies for other groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic, including Indigeonous residents, South Asian residents and people experiencing homelessness.
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.