RJ Aquino (right) of Tulayan and Prof JP Catungal wants data collection.(Composite by PCN.com)

Vancouver, B.C.

Group calls for ethnic and data collection to fight Coronavirus

Teodoro ‘Ted’ Alcuitas

Editor, Philippine Canadian News.Com

A University of British Columbia professor and a community advocacy group is calling for the collection of ethnic and racial data as part of a program to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

 J.P. Catungal, a professor at UBC’s Social Justice Institute and RJ Aquino of Tulayan Filipinx Diaspora Society claims lack of racial and ethnic data limits BC’s COVID-19 response.

In a virtual press conference on April 30,  Catungal and Aquino urged  the B.C. government to collect data on race and ethnicity to determine whether some communities are being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Filipino-Canadians are over-represented in essential industries such as health care, long-term care, and food service.

“In terms of hospitalization, who is being admitted? Who is dying or recovering? Are there differences in terms of severity that are affected by race and ethnicity?” Catungal asks.

Pre-existing conditions or access to care may be factors, he said, but health officials need to be informed by race- and ethnicity-based data.

R.J. Aquino, Director, Tulayan Filipinx Diaspora Society, said the government needs to be more forthcoming with translated and tailored messaging so that communities know how they can protect themselves.

The group recently was successful in having the government translate some information into the Filipino language. Now, they want it to cover the coronavirus pandemic.

Health experts say governments need to commit to collecting this data because, otherwise, it’s difficult to glean a full picture of how minority communities are being impacted.

Catungal cited New York and Louisiana as among U.S. jurisdictions that already collects data.


Responding to calls from Black community leaders, Toronto Public Health is  now collecting racial and ethnic data, recognizing that risk factors for COVID-19 (e.g., preexisting respiratory and circulatory health conditions, place of residence, type of work) often exhibit racialized differentiation.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, echoed the need for the data collection.

“Without these types of data, we are not able to fully understand if this pandemic is disproportionately affecting certain people in our community and ways to address these potential inequities,” she told reporters.

“Reducing health inequities and improving the health status of all residents in our city is core to our work in public health.”

The city is partnering with other organizations like local health integration networks and hospitals to get access to get information in lieu of provincial data.

The case of Cargill in Alberta

The recent case of a Covid-19 outbreak in High River, Alberta Cargill meat-processing plant is an example of why data could be helpful.

When the outbreak happened last month, officials did not know of the number of Filipinos working in the plant until news of the outbreak.

News media revealed about 70 to 80% of the facility’s 2,000 workers were Filipinos, most of whom were recruited through the federal Tempory Foreign Worker’s Program (TFWP).

Almost one half of the work force were infected and one Vietnamese woman died of the virus. 

At the height of the outbreak, Alberta Health Services decided to quarantine infected workers in hotels paid-for by the province for those workers with no private accommodation to do so.

Cesar Cala of the Calgary-based advocacy group FRIENDS  told Philippine Canadian news.Com in a telephone interview that his organization helped in contacting the Filipino workers individually to inform them of their options.


Full text of letter:

Lack of racial and ethnic data limits BC’s COVID-19 response


We would like to begin by acknowledging and recognizing the extensive work that all levels of government are doing to protect the public from the novel COVID-19 virus pandemic.

We call on the British Columbia Ministry of Health to begin collecting racial and ethnic data as one part of its multi-pronged approach to responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

We identify at least three sites at which the collection of racial and ethnicity data could strengthen public health and medical interventions.

1.       Testing: Racial data at the point of testing can help us to pinpoint if particular racial communities are under-represented in testing rates, to identify reasons for such under-representation (e.g., inadequate outreach), and to strategize on how to remedy such an issue (e.g., partnership with ethno-racial civil society organizations).

2.       Hospitalization: We believe that such data could help us understand more fully how race and ethnicity affects rates of diagnosis of COVID-19 infections, the severity of illness, and whether rates of death and the need for intensive care are racially and ethnically uneven. Data at the point of hospitalization could also help us evaluate whether our current approaches to the delivery of medical care are able to respond in culturally appropriate ways to the needs of ethno-racial patients and their families.

3.       Recovery and longer-term care: The collection of racial and ethnic data at the point of recovery could help us understand how the longer term impacts of COVID-19 are differentiated by race and ethnicity. Such data could help identify whether culturally and racially inflected health factors (e.g., food and nutrition) and the availability of supports (e.g., culturally appropriate community resources) affect longer term recovery from COVID-19. It could also help us identify how the availability, delivery and structure of longer term care and post-recovery responds to cultural and racial differentiation.

Our experiential knowledge as members of our ethno-racial community and the circulation of stories of our community’s experiences of COVID-19 tell us that Filipino Canadians experience specific forms of vulnerability during this ongoing pandemic. These vulnerabilities emerge from the racialized, classed and gendered ways that shape the place of Filipino Canadians, as migrant subjects of colour, in Canadian society. Research on Filipinos in Canada suggests, for instance, an overrepresentation of Filipino Canadians in sectors that have been deemed ‘essential’ at this current moment. These include work in the health care sector, especially as nurses, nursing aides and orderlies, as well as in the grocery and food retail industries, including as cashiers and customer service staff. It can be extrapolated based on the demographics of these sectors that workers in these frontline positions are predisposed to risk, based on their public facing roles, of contracting COVID-19. In other places, the picture is clearer. In the UK, the heavy representation of Filipinos in the health care sector has led to “a heavy toll on the community”. In Alberta, the spread of COVID-19 through Cargill processing plant hit the southern Alberta Filipino community quite heavily, as the plant was particularly reliant on the labour of Filipino workers, with 70% of its staff being Filipino.

These kinds of racially and ethnically inflected vulnerabilities are currently not part of our mainstream discourse In British Columbia about COVID-19. We believe that this is because we lack a more complete sense of the racial and ethnic patterns of the impacts of COVID-19 This needs to be remedied with systematized data collection because our lack of such knowledge prevents us from making evidence-based public health decisions that take into account race and ethnicity as social determinants of COVID-19 and of health more broadly.

Our call echoes efforts from other communities and jurisdictions, in and beyond Canada, to articulate the wisdom of a more fully informed public health response through the collection of racial and ethnic data. Black community leaders in Toronto, for example, call for such data collection since other jurisdictions report disproportionate rates of Black people dying from COVID-19. Toronto Public Health is thus directing resources to improve its capacity to collect racial and ethnic data, recognizing that risk factors for COVID-19 (e.g., preexisting respiratory and circulatory health conditions, place of residence, type of work) often exhibit racialized differentiation. Jurisdictions in the United States, including New York City and the state of Louisiana, have also reported racialized patterns of COVID-19, with members of Black and Hispanic communities in New York City and Black communities in Louisiana dying disproportionately from COVID-19.

We know from our experience as community organizers that ethno-racial communities have many assets that could be enlisted to help the BC Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 response. These include already existing social networks, linguistic and cultural skills, and a wealth of experience in community development and organizing. Thus, in addition to the above, we also call on the BC Ministry of Health to support community-based efforts at public health promotion and education at the grassroots level, especially by civil society groups that serve ethno-racial communities. Such resources might include targeted funding for appropriate grassroots organizations to support their delivery of culturally and linguistically appropriate health promotion and medical intervention.

Finally, we call on the BC Ministry of Health to collect, store and steward race and ethnicity data related to COVID-19 responsibly. Legal and ethical frameworks, including the protection of privacy and human rights, must govern the collection and use of such data. In particular, we strongly caution against using such data to increase the surveillance and policing of particular racialized communities, especially as these same communities have been subject to these practices before COVID-19. We therefore call on the government to establish ethical and governance guidelines and protocols specific to this data collection and to include racialized community leaders in decision-making and governance processes.

Dr. John Paul Catungal, Assistant Professor, Social Justice Institute, University of British Columbia

RJ Aquino, Director, Tulayan Filipinx Diaspora SocietyFull text of open letter to the Ministry of Health of British Columbia: