B.C. volunteers shine spotlight on Black communities during COVID-19

Darren Piper / May 15, 2020

Emmanuela Droko is one of several volunteers helping to raise funds for Black communities hit hardest by COVID-19 in B.C.
(SSYC / Facebook)

A group of independent organizers in B.C. has been raising funds for Black communities most impacted by COVID-19. The Black in BC Community Support Fund has so far raised over $18,000 through a GoFundMe campaign and a Facebook Fundraiser.

The group has set up a “low barrier, emergency micro-grant program” which disperses one-time grants of $150 to vulnerable Black individuals and families on a first come, first served basis. They have also distributed 50 disposable masks, as well as fresh produce and grocery items, all of which were sent to the group by donation.

“…so low-income workers, our gig economy workers, folks with disabilities, our queer brothers and sisters, single moms, refugees, international students, just folks that we know are part of the black community in B.C. whether or not they’re citizens…” – Emmanuela Droko, Black in BC Member

In addition to raising funds, Black in BC has been advocating for the collection of race-based health data in B.C. and across the country. The group has said it is crucial for government health officials to monitor COVID-19 cases by race and ethnicity, in order to provide a clearer picture of those hit hardest by the pandemic.

“…in terms of like really what is the status of the black community in B.C. as it relates to this COVID-19 virus, we have a very good estimate that our community is not fairing well, but we don’t have concrete measures to show this and to really advocate for ourselves…”

-Kevonnie Whyte, Black in BC Member

Among COVID-19 deaths for which race and ethnicity data were available, New York City identified the death rate among Black/African American persons to be 92.3 (per 100,000)

(Source / NYC Health Department)

They have cited examples from the U.S., in which emerging data from some states has shown that Black populations have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. federal government collects data “to monitor and track disparities among racial and ethnic groups in the number of COVID-19 cases.”

B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has stated that although the province does not currently gather COVID-19 data by race or ethnicity, it is something which is on the government’s radar.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer
Dr. Bonnie Henry

(Province of British Columbia / Flickr)

“…it is something we’ve been discussing, we know it can be an incredibly important marker, and certainly in the United States it’s something that is routinely collected…”

– Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C. Provincial Health Officer

Canada’s top health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, has also weighed in on the issue, admitting that more work needs to be done with respect to data collection. She also confirmed that her agency is currently working with the provinces on this issue, and soon hopes to have improvements in place.

Manitoba recently announced that it has begun collecting race-based COVID-19 data, making it the first Canadian province to do so. Quebec and Ontario have since followed suit, as well as the city of Toronto, which plans to start within the next week.