Weston the worst-hit community in Toronto

COVID hit Weston more than any other community in Toronto, according to the city’s data.

The most recent data show that there have been 1918 cases per 100,000 people in Weston, meaning that almost 2% of people here have had the virus—though the rate is probably higher, since testing was slow at the beginning of the pandemic.

City data

The median case rate in Toronto is about 1%, so Weston has about double the frequency of cases.

The number of active cases continued to climb this week. There were 15 cases in the past 21 days, up from last week.

COVID growing in YSW

After driving the new infection rate down in early August, Weston and Mount Dennis are seeing a small resurgence in COVID cases, right before schools reopen.

A month ago, there had been three new cases in 21 days in Weston, and 4 cases in Mount Dennis.

Numbers for the 21 days preceding August 6
Numbers for the 21 days preceding August 6

This week, the numbers were worse. There were 12 new cases in the past three weeks, all outside healthcare facilities. There were six ‘sporadic’ cases in Mount Dennis, and one in a healthcare facility.

Race and income contribute to COVID rates, but questions remain

Weston, and the rest of the northwest part of the city, was disproportionately hurt by COVID. The city has released data that explain this a little: we are a poorer, browner neighbourhood. This explanation, though, doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Torontonians who identify as East Asian or white are affected at about one-sixth the rate of those who identify as any other race.

In York South–Weston, 55% of residents are a visible minority. About a quarter are Black, and another tenth are South- or Southeast Asian, all groups hit hard by COVID.

 

From the city

 

Income also plays a role. Poorer households are disproportionately affected—in fact, the poorest are affected at almost 7 times the rate of the richest. Weston is quite poor. The median income here is $53,000, compared to $74,000 for the province as a whole, and 60% of those in our riding make less than $40,000 a year.

From the city

But these charts miss the mark, of course. Unless a pale shade or thick wallet somehow repels a virus like garlic repels vampires, there is a crucial missing question: what about low income or being a visible minority leads to exposure? Our riding also has cheaper parking, more rivers, and worse takeout than most. Correlation is not causation. In this case, correlation cannot be causation. What is the cause?

There are many unanswered and more pointed questions:

  • Are Westonians living in smaller homes at higher densities?
  • Are elder care homes more common in the suburbs? Are they of a lower standard?
  • Did commuting workers on transit catch the bug on a bus?
  • Are workers here at jobs more likely to expose them to the virus? Why?

And if so, what are we going to do about it?

COVID is under control in YSW

COVID appears to be coming under control in Pelmo, Weston, and Mount Dennis, with only a handful of cases reported in the past 21 days.

In the past 21 days, there have been three cases of community transmission in Weston, four in Mount Dennis, and only 1 in Pelmo. The north-west part of the city continues to be the worst hit, however.

 

Pelmo is sick with COVID

The Pelmo Park–Humberlea neighbourhood, part of which is in the area most people would call Weston, has the highest rate of new community-spread COVID cases in the city.

Pelmo Park–Humberlea includes the Pelmo neighbourhood south of the 401, as well as an area to the north of the 401 and  west of the 400.Map of Pelmo Park

Pelmo Park–Humberlea has had 17 new “sporadic” cases in the past 21 days, out of a population of about 10,000. That gives it an infection rate of 159 per 100,000 people, by far the highest in the city—the average rate is 28. (“Sporadic” cases occur outside a healthcare facility).

On the one hand, this may be a statistical blip: 17 cases isn’t a huge number. On the other hand, it is the highest rate in the city in the statistic I think we should care most about: new cases of community spread.

COVID continues to be a problem in the northwest part of the city. In Weston proper, we have had 13 new cases in the past 21 days, and we rank a dismal 9th-worst for new infection rates.

By contrast, more than 10% of the city’s neighbourhoods have had no new cases at all.

Including outbreaks in healthcare facilities makes the picture even darker. Humber Heights (just across the river), Weston, and Mount Dennis have been three of the four worst-hit neighbourhoods in Toronto.

Frances Nunziata says she prompted Joe Cressy, the Chair of Toronto Public Health, to write a letter to the Ontario Minister of Health and the Chief Medical Officer. The letter explains Cressy’s hypotheses around why COVID has been so prevalent here: race, income, reduced access to health services, and household crowding.

He calls on the province to provide:

  • Increased testing, including mobile testing
  • Accommodation for people needing to isolate
  • Increased data collection
  • Improved protections for workers
  • Faster test results

 

 

 

 

Income is related to COVID prevalence

As we’ve discussed, Weston has a large number of COVID cases. It’s not clear why this is the case: it could be density, income, an increased reliance on public transit, or just how diseases work.

I thought that I would try to puzzle out one of these variables. Of course, I’m neither an epidemiologist nor a statistician. But I am pretty handy with a spreadsheet!

And it looks to me like income and COVID prevalence have a loose relationship.

I compared the 2016 neighbourhood median pre-tax income and the COVID rate per 100,000 (to June 4, including public and institutional transmission).

As I suspected, the richest neighbourhoods have very little spread of COVID. This makes sense to me: people there drive, are spread out, and can work from home.

The highest COVID rates are in the poorer neighbourhoods—but not all poorer areas have high rates of transmission.

Income is far from the only explanation. The R² value is .14, suggesing that income explains 14% of the variance in COVID rates. But that’s not nothing, and you read it here first.

Please feel free to check my work.

 

COVID this week

Nine people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in Weston this week, bringing the total number to 205. Of those cases, 144 occurred outside healthcare facilities.

Weston has  one of the highest rates of community infection in the city, with 800 per 100,000 people infected. Only nearby Maple Leaf has a higher rate, and the north west of the city generally has a very high infection rate.

The Weston, Mount Dennis, and Humber Heights areas also have a large number of cases in long-term care homes, including

  • Weston Terrace Care Community, with 25 confirmed cases, 24 deaths, and 39 staff cases.
  • West Park, with 5 cases, 26 deaths, and 5 staff cases
  • Village of Humber Heights: 24 cases, 22 fatalities, 17 staff cases

Why our neighbourhoods are particularly hard hit is very hard to say. There are at least two questions:

  1. Why does COVID ravage some homes for the aged?
    1. Does it have to do with corporate culture, for-profit models, or cost?
  2. Why is it spread in some communities, but not others?
    1. Is it poverty? Density? Employment opportunities?

I, for one, can’t see any easy causal links. Your thoughts would be appreciated.