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A Toronto doctor wants to make sure Black people don’t bear the brunt of a COVID-19 second wave. Here’s what he’s doing about it

A Toronto doctor wants to make sure Black people don’t bear the brunt of a COVID-19 second wave. Here’s what he’s doing about it
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The Hospital for Sick Children is partnering with universities and Black community groups to research the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Black people in Ontario.

Led by Dr. Upton Allen, the head of the hospital’s infectious diseases division, medical researchers will begin large-scale antibody testing and data collection on Black Ontarians who have COVID-19 antibodies.

The study will observe how prevalent COVID-19 was and the extent to which Black Canadian communities may be protected from a second wave in the fall.

Two of the goals of the study are to track if neutralizing antibodies persist in the bloodstream and offer some protection against contracting COVID-19 again in the future, and to collect comprehensive information about Black Canadians who have contracted the virus, what factors could have put them at risk, and how to mitigate those risks.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is to crystallize the socioeconomic, demographic, medical information that might be associated with an increase in likelihood of somebody having COVID,” Allen said in an interview with the Star.

According to data collected by Toronto Public Health, as of late August, the highest share of cases in a racial group, followed by South Asian or Indo-Caribbean who are 13 per cent of the population and 20 per cent of cases.

The research team began seeking participants in the summer and are looking to include up to 2,000 Black Canadians as well as up to 1,000 others from specific postal codes to compare, because in some communities the risk factors likely cross racial and ethnic lines.

“By identifying who is at risk, I believe that we will be better able to target strategies that are aimed at prevention,” Allen said. For example, he said, if studies like this reveal that frontline workers, like personal support workers were disproportionately exposed to COVID-19, could an incentive be made to allow them to only work at one facility rather than having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet?

The Star previously reported on the ways residents in the north west area of Toronto , which has a large Black and racialized population and a disproportionate amount of COVID-19 cases, have been failed by the system.

“It is indeed very important for African Canadians to be represented in studies, like what we’re doing, so that data obtained are directly relevant to them, as opposed to being derived in other populations and then extrapolated to them,” Allen continued.

The first phase of the study will take place over the next six months, testing individuals to see if they are antibody-positive, after which they will be invited to continue to participate over the next two years, to see if they maintain antibodies.

The research team has formed an advisory group and partnered with a number of community groups to help recruit participants and maintain a relationship over the course of the study.

“It is significant this is a Black-led project. Generating trust and therefore greater community participation is of the utmost importance,” Pamela Appelt, chair of the study’s community advisory group, said in a press release.

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SickKids will be partnering with Ontario universities including University of Toronto, York University, Ryerson University and Western University and several Black community groups: including the Black Health Alliance, Jamaican Canadian Association, Black Creek and Taibu Community Health Centres, Alliance for Healthier Communities and others.
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