Prioritizing supports to specific neighborhoods is key to curbing the transmission of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is having uneven impacts across cities and provinces, with some regions struggling more than others. Hotspots of COVID-19 infections in Canadian cities are linked to occupation, income, housing and markers of structural racism, a new study shows.

To better understand the factors contributing to the concentration of infections in specific regions, a team of researchers from across Canada, including Yiqing Xia, David Buckeridge and Mathieu Maheu-Giroux of McGill University, analyzed provincial surveillance data from January 2020 to February 2021. study, which looked at infections in 16 urban centers in Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba, is published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Patterns of COVID-19 transmission in cities

“In each of the cities we looked at, 50% of cases were concentrated in areas that comprised less than 21% to 35% of the population. In these regions, the factors associated with the concentration of cases varied slightly according to local contexts,” explains Mathieu Maheu-Giroux, professor at McGill University, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Population Health Modeling.

“In all provinces, cases were geographically concentrated according to the social determinants of health. These include neighborhoods with high housing density, more essential workers, low-income or low-education residents, and a higher proportion of visible minorities or recent immigrants. says lead author Yiqing Xia, a McGill PhD student in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics. , and occupational health.

The researchers found that the most common social determinant of health across all cities was visible minority status. These results are consistent with other studies conducted in Canada as well as Sweden, the United States and other countries showing higher rates of COVID-19 in vulnerable communities or various neighborhoods.

During the study period, 63,266 cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia, 15,089 in Manitoba, 239,160 in Ontario and 224,377 in Quebec were recorded in the 16 metropolitan areas. They accounted for 81%, 57%, 83% and 80% of all confirmed cases in each province, respectively.

COVID-19 hotspots in Quebec

“What is striking in our analyzes is that we observe similar trends in all the cities of Quebec examined: the cases are concentrated according to the social determinants of health in Gatineau, Quebec, Sherbrooke, Saguenay and Trois-Rivières” , explains Mathieu Maheu-Giroux. .

“In Montreal, the local Regional Public Health Department has sometimes prioritized certain interventions such as tests and vaccines in specific areas of the city that have experienced high transmission of COVID-19. There is a need to scale up these initiatives to make our response to the pandemic more effective,” he adds.

Focus on populations most at risk of infection

“Understanding factors associated with geographic transmission patterns in cities can help identify populations and, in particular, settings at greatest risk,” says Dr. Sharmistha Mishra of St. Michael’s Hospital and Unity Health Toronto. “Geographical analyzes can enable better allocation of resources, adaptation of policies and implementation of context-specific strategies to more effectively and efficiently curb local transmission,” she says.

To effectively reach and meet the prevention and care needs of communities at disproportionate risk from COVID, the authors call for geographically prioritized public health supports for hotspots across the country, such as vaccination deployments and testing. in specific areas. “Prioritizing specific neighborhoods that are most at risk of transmission provides a clear path forward in the public health response to the resurgence of COVID-19,” they conclude.


About McGill University

Founded in Montreal, Quebec in 1821, McGill University is Canada’s top medical doctoral university. McGill is consistently ranked among the top universities, both nationally and internationally. It is a world-renowned institution of higher education with research activities spanning three campuses, 11 faculties, 13 professional schools, 300 study programs and over 39,000 students, including over 10,400 graduate students. McGill attracts students from more than 150 countries around the world, with its 12,000 international students representing 30% of the student body. More than half of McGill students report having a first language other than English, with approximately 20% of our students reporting French as their first language.

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