COVID in the Filipino Community
Malaya Marcelino, MLA for Notre Dame
by Malaya Marcelino
In Manitoba, Filipinos and other racialized communities bear the brunt of COVID-19 infection rates. At the beginning of March, the Province of Manitoba released race-based and work place data showing that Filipinos accounted for the greatest share of all COVID-19 cases compared to our share of the provincial population.
The COVID-19 by Race, Ethnicity and Indigeneity (REI) report noted that Filipinos comprised 12 per cent of all COVID-19 cases since May 1, 2020 despite having only seven per cent of the population and that “Filipino women are slightly more affected by COVID than men.”
The REI report also tracked occupations in food manufacturing, service industry and transportation as having the highest rates of COVID infection. It is important to note that occupations in health care were not included in the released data.
Many in the Filipino community were alarmed that the Province made these findings public and expressed concern that our community would once again be the target of racism and stigma similar to the time early on in the pandemic when public health officials reported that an early case of COVID in Manitoba was linked to a passenger on a flight from the Philippines.
On numerous occasions, Dr. Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, has stressed the importance of preventing the hurtful stigmatization of individuals and communities. Yet, even with the awareness that these findings would potentially cause backlash against racialized communities, public health officials calculated that the release of the report was still a necessary step to protect these communities from further COVID spread. Dr. Roussin explained that the collection of race based data is important because “we knew early on that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) communities would be disproportionately affected just as they are in other jurisdictions so we really wanted to see the data to be able to report back to our partners and try to use this to find solutions.”
NorWest Health Co-op: “Coping with COVID”
NorWest Health Co-op is one of the health service partners in Winnipeg that are actively reaching out to the Filipino and other racialized communities to find solutions that can mitigate COVID-19 spread. In addition to addressing vaccine hesitancy in our community, NorWest is now starting a new campaign called “Coping with COVID” due to troubling findings recently published by the Province of high transmission rates in the Weston/Brooklands, Tyndall Park and Seven Oaks areas. In addition to engaging with community leaders of Filipino churches, organizations and associations, ethnic media and business, NorWest is currently creating a “Coping with COVID” social media campaign highlighting health and prevention measures specifically geared to the needs of our community. For instance, NorWest is creating social media content to address COVID prevention when carpooling since many Filipinos carpool to work at a factory hard to access by bus.
Why is COVID transmission so high in our community?
This is a question not yet fully explained by research to date but early findings in other jurisdictions regarding hard-hit BIPOC communities point to workplace transmission, the type of essential work that many in our community do, and housing conditions. For instance, the same geographical areas in Winnipeg that show high rates of COVID infection including Weston/Brooklands, Tyndall Park and Seven Oaks are the very same areas where the highest rates of people are working in occupations related to manufacturing plants. The REI data shows that significant workplace transmission is happening at manufacturing plants.
Many Filipinos also work in the health care sector where exposure to patients with COVID and lack of PPE has put many workers and their families at risk. Filipinos are also employed in essential work in the service sector (i.e. retail) and the transportation sector (i.e. trucking) that were also cited as top sectors affected by COVID. Filipinos also tend to live in multi-generational households or in tight living quarters that can make COVID easier to spread to the rest of the household.
At work: Solutions should focus on better prevention of workplace COVID transmission and some have argued that public health has not done a good enough job, to date, of incorporating an occupational health lens to assessing COVID prevention and safety protocols in workplaces.
Paid sick leave: Solutions also need to address essential workers’ financial concerns. Fifty-eight per cent of workers in Canada do not have access to paid sick leave. Those working in low wage, precarious jobs usually held by women and racialized people do not have paid sick leave. Currently, a federal benefit of two weeks paid sick leave is granted to workers by the federal government if a worker has contracted COVID or is a primary contact and needs to self-isolate for two weeks. Public health messaging has repeatedly been: “If you are sick, stay home,” but for a worker with mild symptoms like a runny nose or a slight cough, some have decided to go to work anyway because, when there’s no work, there’s no pay.
During a public health emergency like the one we’re facing now, there should be immediate government provisions in place for comprehensive paid sick days.
Public awareness of free COVID treatment for all: Solutions should also address increasing public awareness that any person can access COVID testing and treatment regardless of citizenship status or health insurance coverage.
Malaya Marcelino is the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Notre Dame.
Share of COVID-19 cases compared to the share of people living in Manitoba, by race, ethnicity, and Indigeneity [May 1 to December 31, 2020] – Manitoba Government report, March 1, 2021
Employment of COVID cases 15 years and over [May 1 – September 30, 2020] – Manitoba Government report, March 1, 2021