What don’t we know about COVID-19 in Canada’s cities?
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. Confronting the ‘cloak of secrecy’ within essential workplaces
Transparency is critical, according to Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown. In Brampton, major essential sectors like food processing and transportation logistics have been busier than pre-pandemic—hiring additional staff and adding additional shifts with increased demand from consumers. But too often, employers are cutting corners. Says Mayor Brown, “The privilege of operating during a lockdown must come with a greater level of scrutiny.” Employees are sacrificing their health, and we have to in turn have to ensure that regulations and enforcement is in place to guarantee that employers are doing everything possible to keep their workers safe.
2. Place-based solutions for place-based problems
Thierry Lindor, founder of Colors of COVID—a website tracking the experiences of BIPOC communities’ experiences during the pandemic—reports that 71% of respondents in a recent survey said they would not be ready to take the vaccine if it were offered to them tomorrow. He points to a lack of trust in authority, based on histories of systemic discrimination and broken trust between Indigenous and racialized populations, and the institutions meant to protect them. The solution, he proposes, is to work block by block, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, connecting to and working through people directly on the ground.
3. You can’t tackle what you don’t measure
According to CUI’s Kate Graham, better data leads to better knowledge, information, and outcomes. And that data needs to cover the range of challenges that people are facing during the pandemic. While the majority of Canadians will not contract the disease, the impacts of COVID across the population continue to be deeply felt—from job losses and precarity at work, to mental health impacts and the impact on children with virtual learning. Data needs to be collected at as granular a level as possible, at the city, neighbourhood, workplace, and population levels, and also with an eye to intersectionality, to understand how particular equity-seeking groups are impacted. Agrees Thierry Lindor, “You can’t tackle what you don’t measure.”
4. Balancing transparency with further stigmatization
Janice Abbott, CEO of the Atira Women’s Society in Vancouver and Surrey, describes the challenges of making hyper-local data about COVID infections and deaths more transparent to the public. Drawing from her experience working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, she talks about pre-existing stigmas facing vulnerable populations, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
5. An honest conversation about racism and COVID
Says Thierry Lindor, COVID doesn’t see race, but it does see poverty—and poverty is more likely to impact vulnerable groups, including women, racialized, and Indigenous communities. He cites a recent report on neighbourhoods across Montreal showing a direct correlation between price per square foot in real estate, and the number of COVID cases. “Our understanding of the pandemic has to do with fighting another pandemic called racism. We need an honest conversation if we don’t want to go through a third wave and potentially even more waves after that.”