How is COVID-19 affecting different communities?

The COVID-19 virus appears to affect some communities, workplaces and groups more acutely than others. Exploring why this is happening is essential to immunize society against further economic and social dislocation in the future, researchers say.

While the virus itself does not discriminate, certain groups are bearing a disproportionate burden of illness. Poverty or unstable work can lead to underlying illnesses or conditions that disadvantage sections of the population.

At U of T, research into these trends is occurring alongside rapid advances in understanding and treating the virus.  Researchers are studying how to manage mental health and emotional well-being, counter racism and discrimination, and talking to community advocates about impacts on their neighbourhoods. Others are looking ahead to economic recovery and how workplaces will adapt to a possible extended period of remote working.

Here are several projects funded through federal government or University of Toronto support.

Countering misinformation. Joseph Gillis is researching Canadians’ knowledge about the virus and will design programs to counter misinformation through social media. Through focus groups with members of the Chinese and East Asian communities, the research team will document these communities’ experience during the pandemic. All the information gathered will be used to give Canadians advice on how to increase their feelings of resilience.

Studying the quality of work. With support from the U of T COVID-19 Action Fund, Scott Schieman, chair of sociology, is leading a project to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on the quality of work and economic life in Canada. It’s one of several research projects among the 31 in the $8.4-million action fund raised by the University. Other projects include the deployment of a tracking and response platform for First Nations, Inuit and Metis populations, behavior among young adults during the pandemic, and patterns of digital communications.

Talking with vulnerable populations. Tanya Sharpe, an associate professor at U of T’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, is running a video series on Instagram examining the disproportionate impact of the virus on vulnerable populations. The series - 30@8:30 - is organized through the Centre for Research & Innovation for Black Survivors of Homicide Victims and is available on Instagram until the end of May. The last session will be held on Zoom when the audience will be able to participate in an hour-long discussion with her guests.  

(Dexter Voisin, dean of the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work was the first guest on the show 30@8:30.  photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)