Opinion: COVID-19 crisis is unmasking racial inequities

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COVID-19 is hitting people of colour more severely in Canada. If we tracked race or ethnicity as relevant data along with age, gender and underlying medical conditions, it would reveal a telling story.

In Alberta, meatpacking plants are staffed by a racialized workforce — Filipinos, Vietnamese, Mexican, Eritrean, Ethiopian and other backgrounds. Outbreaks in three of these plants account for about 2,400 known COVID-19 cases, a third of the province’s total cases. Add the number of people infected in other workplaces and you begin to see the full picture where people of colour disproportionally are infected by the virus.

Since the virus does not discriminate by race, the issue must lie in socio-economic conditions placing certain people in harmful situations at work. From a public health perspective, race is an important underlying condition.

I was part of a group asked by Alberta Health Services to provide support to Cargill workers and their families. We realized quickly it meant much more than just health and basic necessities, such as food. The crisis had magnified inequities already simmering under the surface.