Toronto has unveiled a new COVID-19 Response Plan to provide enhanced support for Black Torontontians amid the pandemic.
The new initiative aims to inform and support Toronto’s Black community who are disproportionately being affected by the deadly virus.
“These initiatives, under the heading of the Black Community COVID-19 Response Plan are meant to specifically provide supports to the Black communities in Toronto so as to help members of those communities to fight off the virus, to fight off its effects on them and to try to address some of the root causes for the extraordinarily disproportionate impacts on them,” Mayor John Tory said during a virtual briefing ahead of a city council meeting Wednesday morning.
The plan was developed as part of the TO supports: Targeted Equity Action Plan and in response to new data about the novel coronavirus’ impact on Toronto’s Black community.
The data, which was collected in late 2020, revealed that Black people of African and Caribbean descent represent 26 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Toronto, despite only representing nine per cent of Toronto’s population. In addition, 30 per cent of Canadians who are hesitant about COVID-19 vaccines are Black.
“This is as a result of long-standing, systemic health inequities related to poverty, racism and other forms of marginalization and lack of access to opportunity which have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” Tory said.
The new plan comes as the city recently published new data on racialized groups that continue to make up a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases. Nearly 80 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Toronto identified with a racialized group in November, according to the city.
For the Black Community COVID-19 Response Plan, the city has partnered with community agencies to provide COVID-19 health and safety awareness to the Black community, and has created The Black Scientists' Task Force on Vaccine Equity.
The task force plans to review major concerns around COVID-19 testing and levels of vaccine acceptance in the Black communities and develop public health recommendations to address these issues.
“Vaccine hesitancy is high among Black residents and that means we have to do everything possible to provide them with the information they need to get around and get over that hesitancy,” Tory said.
The task force is set to present a final report of its findings and recommendations to the city by Apr. 30.
As February marks Black History Month, the task force will also be co-hosting a series of free virtual town hall meetings, including topics on the trustworthiness of vaccines, how vaccines work, and mental health problems and consequences of COVID-19.
The first session is on Feb. 13 and the virtual town halls will continue into March.
“To stop the spread of the virus it is critical that residents in the Black community have access to appropriate health and safety information about COVID-19 and the vaccines developed to control its effects,” Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson said during the virtual chat.
As part of The Black Community COVID Response Plan, the city has also invested $6.8 million in funding and partnered with 12 community groups to provide outreach and support to the top 10 neighbourhoods with a high percentage of Black Torontonians and the highest COVID-19 case rates.
These supports include increases in culturally-responsive mental health supports, food access provisions for Black-mandated organizations and mobile and community-based testing.