Isaac Muttiah, a laboratory technical assistant at LifeLabs, handles a specimen to be tested for COVID-19 after scanning its barcode upon receipt at the company’s lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. LifeLabs is Canada’s largest private provider of diagnostic testing for health care. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. Black-based group starts COVID-19 fund, urges officials to collect race-based data

Health care data from the pandemic has largely not included race

As the COVID-19 death toll nears 8,000 across Canada, one group of activists wants to make sure B.C.’s Black communities are not forgotten.

Kevonnie Whyte, one of the creators of the Black in B.C. Community Support Fund for COVID-19, said the government needs to begin collecting race-based data for COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“Having race-based data is a key part in exposing the systemic injustices that still exist,” Whyte told Black Press Media by phone.

Some information on systemic racism is coming to light in Statistics Canada census date, although the group believes it’s not comprehensive enough.

“We can see just in the Vancouver context alone, that the median income of Black Canadians is $29,000 compared to $42,000 that is earned by white Canadians,” Whyte said. “That’s a difference of more than $10,000.”

The group’s work comes as Canadians begin to grapple with racism here at home, spurred on by protests that began south of the border but have since spread to cities big and small.

READ MORE: Amid anti-racism protests, Trudeau promises to push police body cameras with premiers

While race-based data on COVID-19 has not been collected, either in B.C. or at the federal level, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the option to collect race-based data was not included in the initial national case report forms for the novel coronavirus.

“We have used some proxies in terms of looking at neighbourhoods,” Henry said during a news conference earlier this week.

However, the COVID-19 survey “very specifically” asked about race and ethnicity, she added. More than 260,000 people across B.C. have filled out the survey. As of Thursday (June 11), 167 people have died of COVID-19 in B.C.

“It is important to us to understand the impact of this pandemic… [and how it] differentially affects people in racialized communities.”

Although that data is not available in B.C., Whyte’s lived experience has shown her it likely mirrors what has been seen in the U.S.

That led Whyte, and a group of 10 other Black and Indigenous organizers, to create the Black in B.C. Community Support Fund for COVID-19.

“Black people tend not to be permanent residents or people with citizenship. A lot of the Black community in B.C…. tend to be on work visas or are international students and would not qualify for EI or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit,” she said.

“Black folks tend to be harder hit by this pandemic… based on the evidence we see in the United States.”

According to race-based data collected by the U.S. Centre for Disease Control, Black people are overrepresented among hospitalized patients. In New York, one of the cities that categorizes COVID-19 deaths by race, the Black community sat at 92.3 deaths per 100,000 people. Deaths among white New Yorkers were at 45.2 per 100,000.

Dr. Ala Stanford administers a COVID-19 swab test on Wade Jeffries in the parking lot of Pinn Memorial Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. Stanford and other doctors formed the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to offer testing and help address heath disparities in the African American community. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Although the community support fund is meant to help B.C.’s Black community as a whole, it is focused on those ineligible for federal or provincial aid programs. As of Thursday (June 11), the GoFundMe page had raised more than $152,000 from 2,700 donors. The money is being given out in $150 chunks.

Whyte said with the money they have raised they are now trying to raise awareness for Black people in need.

“We are encouraging Black folks to apply,” Whyte said.

As they work on making the community support fund a more formal organization, Whyte said the group will also continue to push for properly collected race-based data.

“The ‘how’ is just as important as the aim of it being collected,” she said.

“We are calling for it to be collected specifically in cooperation with the racialized communities.”

READ MORE: Freeland says police must acknowledge racism, advocates call for action

Whyte said gathering race-based data on COVID-19, or in health care in general, would take a paradigm shift where Canadians acknowledge the role of systemic racism.

“I believe that Canadians have this notion that racism isn’t a problem here,” she said.

“That has caused us to stall, and be stagnant, and there’s no impetus and no motivation to want to expose it and work to correct it.”

The data needs to be “co-owned, analyzed and interpreted with leadership from racialized communities.”

Provincial and federal governments, she said, need to create and abide by ethical rules for both the collection and use of the data, taking into account privacy concerns.

“History has shown that when data is collected on marginalized communities, often times it can we used to weaponize against them,” Whyte said, instead of being used to inform evidence-based health care, social programs and interventions in tandem with racialized communities.

To learn more about the Black in B.C. Community Support Fund for COVID-19, visit: https://ca.gofundme.com/f/covid19-black-community-support-vancouver.

READ MORE: Canadian non-profit creates fund to streamline donations to Black-based charities


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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