One in 10 young Black adults contracted COVID: survey

It's almost three times as much as the general population.

The Montreal Gazette 3 minute read July 26, 2021

Studies have shown the pandemic has disproportionately harmed racialized communities around the world. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette files

At least one in 10 young Black adults across Canada has reported contracting the coronavirus during the pandemic — a rate that is two and a half times that of the general population, a new survey has found.

Researchers from McGill University and the Black Community Resource Centre of Montreal commissioned the Léger polling firm to conduct a national survey in January of 346 Black-identifying Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35. Most of the respondents of the online survey came from Ontario, 43 per cent, followed by Quebec at 35 per cent.

The survey sought to assess family and peer support among young Black adults during the twin crises of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement following the choking death of George Floyd by a police officer.

“Regarding participants’ experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, 10 per cent reported having contracted the virus and 36 per cent reported that someone they knew personally had contracted the (coronavirus),” the study notes. “Furthermore, 36 per cent of participants reported being an essential worker — for example, nurses, physicians, psychologists, etc — and another 35 per cent reported that a family member was an essential worker.”

Richard Koestner, one of the authors of the study and the director of the McGill Human Motivation Lab, said the 10-per-cent figure among Black Canadians is likely an under-estimate. The preprint of the study is under review by the Journal of Black Psychology.

To date, testing has confirmed COVID-19 in 3.75 per cent of the Canadian population, according to the latest government figures. In Quebec, the rate is 4.38 per cent.

The findings of the study add to a body of research that the pandemic has disproportionately harmed racialized communities around the world. Koestner and his colleagues alluded to U.S. research that found that COVID-19 infection rates in Black communities have been twice as high and death rates three times as high as the general population.

“There is growing concern that racial and ethnic minority communities around the world are experiencing a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality from (COVID-19),” conclude the authors of a separate study that examined the impact of the pandemic on U.S. veterans.

And in a study released this month by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the authors renew calls for the collection of racial data not only to better study COVID-19 but to go “beyond the scope of the pandemic to identify disparities in health care and find solutions to minimize this gap.”

“Increased risk of COVID-19 infection has frequently been linked with socioeconomic factors such as poor housing and precarious employment,” the authors add. “The intersection of race, socioeconomic status and health is of particular importance to racialized persons, who consistently report higher rates of working poverty, below-standard housing and lower income.”

Seeta Ramdass, a longtime patient-rights advocate in Montreal, noted that unconscious bias often creeps into health care. She cited as an example the pulse oximeter placed on a patient’s finger to detect oxygen saturation in the blood. Such devices are considered less accurate when measuring black and brown skin.

“The refusal and failure to collect sociocultural data is systemic racism,” Ramdass said. “By failing to acknowledge and to document the inequitable experiences of racialized and marginalized people, how can you even begin to put the corrective measures in place that will make society more inclusive and responsive to every person of every community?”

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