February 3, 2021

City of Toronto unveils the Black Community COVID-19 Response Plan

Today, Mayor John Tory unveiled the City of Toronto’s Black Community COVID-19 Response Plan developed in December 2020 to provide enhanced support for Black Torontonians. The plan was developed as part of the TO Supports: Targeted Equity Action Plan and in response to data released in late 2020 that revealed the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in Toronto (26 per cent) and vaccine hesitancy experienced by Canadians (about 30 per cent) were among Black people of African and Caribbean descent.

To help reduce the number of COVID-19 cases and effectively address the issues around vaccine trust and confidence within Black communities, the City has partnered with community agencies to provide COVID-19 health and safety awareness in Black communities and work with experts to prepare for and support immunization.

The work with experts includes the development of the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity, with the overarching goal of reducing the immediate risk of disease transmission and hospitalization. This task force is being jointly supported by the City and TAIBU Community Health Centre, a trusted community partner with a mandate for Black health across Toronto. Toronto Public Health is also supporting the initiative along with many of Canada’s top Black scientists involved in key aspects of vaccine development and public health. Together they will review the major concerns around COVID-19 testing and levels of vaccine acceptance and develop public health recommendations to effectively address this within the Black community. The task force is scheduled to present a final report of its findings and recommendations to the City by April 30, 2021.

Members of the task force include:
. Dr. Akwatu Khenti, an expert in anti-Black racism, Black mental health and the adaptation of mainstream health interventions to African and Caribbean cultures; chair of the Task Force . Dr. Candice Todd, a naturopathic doctor with expertise in health promotion and disease prevention . Celina Caesar-Chavannes, an expert in clinical trials and the issues of racial representation in clinical trials . Dr. David Burt, an immunologist with a background in vaccine testing and product development . Francis Jeffers, an expert in vaccine quality control and issues related to Black community members and STEM . Dr. Isaac Odame, a physician and expert on sickle cell disease and Black historic experiences with neglected diseases . Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a psychiatrist specializing in Black mental health and health equity policy . Dr. Upton Allen, an infectious disease expert and lead investigator on COVID at Sick Kids Hospital . Nicole Welch, a nursing and public health leader with Toronto Public Health . Trevor Aldridge, with expertise in regulatory aspects of vaccine approvals and areas of quality compliance and regulatory affairs . Dr. Zainab Abdurrahman, an expert in vaccine allergies and adverse reactions . Dr. Michael Finkelstein, Associate Medical Officer of Health, Toronto Public Health and Chair of the City’s Immunization Task Force . Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey, Deputy Medical Officer of Health, Toronto Public Health

The task force, in conjunction with several community organizations–including the Black Health Alliance (BHA), the Canadian Multicultural Inventors Museum and Harriet Tubman Institute, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands and TAIBU–will co-host a series of free virtual town hall meetings for Toronto’s Black communities during Black History Month and into March, starting February 13. The first town hall will focus on the historical and contemporary issues of trustworthiness vis-à-vis vaccines and medical science that give Black people cause for concern. Other town hall sessions will focus on answering how vaccines work; misinformation and conspiracy theories; mental health problems and consequences of COVID-19; and Black health professional risks and resiliencies.

Details about the task force’s work, the virtual sessions and how to participate can be found on the City’s COVID-19: City Immunization Task Force page:  https://www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-protect-yourself-others/covid-19-vaccines/covid-19-city-immunization-program/.

More information about the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity can be found in a backgrounder on the City’s website at: https://contrib.wp.intra.prod-toronto.ca/news/black-scientists-task-force-on-vaccine-equity/

Through the Black Community COVID Response Plan, the City is also leveraging the expertise and talents of agencies that are Black-led and serving to increase wrap-around supports to help Black individuals and families stay well physically, mentally and emotionally through the pandemic.

To carry out this work, the City has invested $6.8 million in funding and partnered with 12 community agencies to provide targeted outreach and supports to the top 10 neighbourhoods with a high percentage of Black Torontonians and highest COVID-19 case rate. These supports include increases in culturally-responsive mental health supports, food access provisions for Black-mandated organizations, mobile and community-based testing, mobile services to support seniors and people with disabilities (such as food delivery or wellness checks); a commitment to continue to advocating for income support and housing security; and coordinate health policies, programs and provisions targeted to Black communities.

For example, the Black Health Alliance is leading grassroots communication efforts around COVID-19 health and safety awareness campaign and the City has also partnered with other Black-led and Black-serving agencies (such as Delta, Black Creek Health Centre, Rexdale Community Health Centre, and Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Organization) to implement some social service and culturally-responsive mental health supports through door knocking wellness checks and WhatsApp messages.

This plan and the work being carried out by the community partners is supplemental to the work for which funds were allocated through the TO Supports Fund for Black-led and Black serving community agencies. Through the fund, approximately 37 Black agencies serving Black Torontonians were allocated approximately $3.6 million for food access programs, mental health supports and social connections to provide support to Black residents during the response to the pandemic.

The TO Supports Investment Fund was created to invest in strategic partnerships with social services agencies to address urgent needs of vulnerable Toronto residents. The funds are not intended to meet long-term recovery needs.

More information:
. First round of TO Supports Investment Fund investments https://www.toronto.ca/news/city-of-toronto-announces-funds-for-community-services-to-do-more-for-vulnerable-populations/
. Second round of TO Supports Investment Fund investments https://www.toronto.ca/news/city-of-toronto-announces-additional-funds-for-community-services-to-help-vulnerable-populations/
. Third round of TO Supports Investment Fund investments https://www.toronto.ca/news/city-of-toronto-announces-another-round-of-to-supports-funding-for-community-services-to-help-vulnerable-populations/

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