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Health Equity and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to existing health inequities. This means that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting the health and well-being of people based on their social determinants of health (e.g., income levels, housing, and experiences of social stigma). A response to COVID-19 that values and prioritizes health equity will support community resilience and well-being today, and into the future.

Considerations for a Healthy Equity Centered Approach to COVID-19 include a focus on:

Ensuring everyone has the income to live with dignity will support the health and well-being of residents experiencing the social, health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Many workers deemed as essential during COVID-19 are living on a low income even if working more than one job. We can all play a role in promoting income based solutions by sharing our support for these strategies:

  • A living wage. A living wage helps to lift employees out of poverty and reduces the need for employees to work long hours and at multiple jobs. Having to work multiple jobs to earn a living may increase the risk of acquiring COVID-19. Benefits of becoming a living wage employer include a decrease in employee turnover and absenteeism, increased retention and productivity. The Ontario Living Wage Network has a guide on Becoming a Living Wage Employer.
  • Basic Income programs ensure that individuals and families continue to receive money during times of crisis, e.g., the COVID-19 Pandemic. In the long term, such programs may better support those on lower incomes to meet their basic needs and improve their education, housing, employment and health. To learn more, read about Food Banks Canada recommendation for Basic Income.
  • Plans to support employees when they are off sick. Offering paid sick days will encourage staff to comply with public health recommendations for testing and self-isolation.
  • Flexible work arrangements (e.g., options to work from home, flexible work hours, and access to government support programs) can support physical distancing measures and the self-isolation of those who are considered close contacts of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • For more information on public health infection prevention and control practices for employers and employees see the COVID-19 & Re-opening section of the health unit website.
  • Consider helping others to access face coverings and cloth masks and hand hygiene supplies. Visit the United Way of Eastern Ontario to learn more about the Facing Forward program which is helping to ensure those in need have access to masks. Read more on face coverings.
  • For coping and mental wellness resources, visit the Resources for Coping, Helping and Mental Wellness section on the Health Unit website.

See the ‘Preventing Discrimination and Stigma’ tab on the Health Unit COVID-19 page.

  • During the COVID-19 Pandemic, there has been a rise in stigma, xenophobia, and discrimination targeting Asian communities. You can help to address discrimination and stigma in your community. See the ‘Preventing Discrimination and Stigma’ tab on the Health Unit COVID-19 page.
  • As well, emerging evidence indicates that visible minorities and immigrants may be particularly impacted by the health, social, and economic impacts of COVID-19.
  • Learn more:
    • Public Health Ontario shares that structural determinants of health like racism, colonization, social exclusion, and repression may be contributing to an increase in COVID-19 risk for Indigenous and Black populations in Canada.
    • A recent ICES report shows that those who have tested positive for COVID-19 are more likely to live in neighbourhoods with a higher concentration of immigrants and visible minorities.
    • Results of a systematic review suggest that persons of colour may be at more risk for COVID-19 infection and severe illness from the virus. The data remains limited and more peer-reviewed literature is needed.
    • Continued research and data collection on the social determinants of health and COVID-19 will help to inform an evidence based response to the pandemic.
  • LGBT2SQ+ communities may be particularly impacted by the health, social, and economic impacts of COVID-19.
  • Local service providers and government officials can make a difference by offering LGBT2SQ+ inclusive services and by promoting community supports.
  • Learn more from Egale Canada and from the briefing report by Rainbow Health Victoria Research.
  • There are factors that may put a person living with a disability more at risk for COVID-19 or developing a more severe COVID-19 infection. Read more at Canada.ca.
  • Persons living with disabilities can learn more about supports during COVID-19 at Ontario.ca.
  • Continue to connect with family and friends outside of the home by phone and virtual platforms. Help improve access to electronic devices and internet services to those who need it.
  • Check in virtually or by phone with others who may be isolated or especially vulnerable to COVID-19 (e.g., older adults).

Access to a safe, clean, and affordable home with enough space, running water, and heating and cooling will help to keep people safe and healthy during pandemics. Organizations and government officials are taking action on housing by considering a series of strategies such as:

As well, members of the public can be supported to access resources that they may not have at home:

  • Help improve access to green spaces for those who live in apartments or condos.
  • Help improve access to electronic devices and internet services to those who need it.
  • Offer cooling centres during extreme heat weather days for those who do not have air conditioners at home.
  • As Ontario re-opens, and people begin to access shared spaces such as parks and cooling centres, continue to provide them with information and education on physical distancing and hand hygiene in public spaces. Contact public health for consultation. Call us at 1-800-660-5853 or email us at contact@healthunit.org.

We are continuing to learn about the connections between COVID-19 and our natural environment. There is evidence that increasing human pressure on the natural environment may drive disease emergence.  The following can help to prevent disease while also protecting our natural environment:

  • Policies and legislative changes that will protect biodiversity and our natural environment.
  • An ecological public health approach to urban planning can play a critical role in preventing disease transmission.
  • Participation in conversations on how we can protect ourselves and our communities from COVID-19 without harming our environment. For example, discussions on safe transit and active transportation, and strategies to reduce waste (e.g., reusable face coverings for members of the public).
  • To read more, see this Questions and Answer document from the World Health Organization on COVID-19 and Climate Change.

A more equitable built environment (e.g., buildings, roads, paths, parks, towns/cities) can help promote and protect the health of people, especially those who may be more vulnerable, during difficult times (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic). For example, communities with a robust active transportation network, affordable housing, and easy access to healthy food and greenspace can help improve community and individual resilience. Municipalities and individuals can consider ways (e.g., through the Official Plan and other planning initiatives) to improve our natural and built environments.

For additional community resources during COVID-19 including crisis supports, employment resources, mental health, and food access supports, visit:

For more information and resources on a health equity driven response to COVID-19: