Toronto’s Waterfront community seeing most new cases in the city

A Toronto neighbourhood that houses a high proportion of people under age 40 is experiencing an increased spread of COVID-19 — coinciding with Ontario data that shows younger people have been driving the surge of new infections in the province in the last few weeks. 

Waterfront Communities-The Island, a neighbourhood that covers much of the city’s entertainment district and waterfront condos, saw the most reported new cases in Toronto, as of Sept. 15 according to city data.

Overall, out of 140 Toronto neighbourhoods, the Waterfront now has the 13th most cases overall at 269, as increased cases have caused the region to climb up a number of spots in the last few weeks. Lower-income neighbourhoods where experts say health inequities are prevalent still contain the majority of Toronto’s cases, however.

Toronto has the most active cases in Ontario at 691 as of Wednesday. In total, out of all of the province’s active cases, nearly two-thirds represent people under age 40.

“You hear anecdotally, it’s because people in that age bracket are less scared and they’re not taking the precautions that other age groups are taking,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. 

“Another explanation is that a lot of people in that age demographic need to be out to work. They’re the people who are working in restaurants. They’re the people who are working in bars,” she said. 

Around 63 per cent of people living in the Waterfront community are between the ages of 20 and 40, according to 2016 census data. 

While this neighbourhood is facing increased levels of community spread of the virus, public health officials are having difficulties determining how roughly half of Ontario’s new cases became infected. 

Current exposure data shows that of the cases that they do have information on, most were infected with COVID-19 through close contact with someone who had the virus or from an outbreak.

“If we don’t understand how and where people are getting infected, it’s very hard to control this disease,” said Tuite. 

New research by Tuite and her colleague Dr. David Fisman, also an epidemiologist with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, indicates that the positive test rate of people in their 20s has climbed in recent weeks to around 4 per cent, which is four times higher than the general population.

Difficult for post-secondary students to make friends over Zoom

The Waterfront community features new, high-rise condo buildings packed with amenities and views of the CN Tower and the lake, along with being steps away from public transit. 

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The median household income in the area is around $78,000, above the city average of close to $66,000, as of 2016.

Many younger people are conscious of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, said Berkley Neil, a resident in the Waterfront area, speaking to CBC News.

“I’m not going to generalize them altogether. I think a lot of them are conscious, but you see more around that aren’t, because they make the news more when there’s parties and gatherings,” said Neil. 

Although classes are online, with students returning to school, there’s a want to celebrate the beginning of the school year, which may make younger people less aware of their actions, she said. 

David Ahumada, another resident, agreed that the start of the school year may encourage those in their early 20s to try to make more friends in person, especially since online Zoom classes don’t leave as much room for connections or networking.

“A lot of people are new, and are [from] out of town; we’re trying to make friends,” he said. 

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Lower-income neighbourhoods remain COVID-19 hotspots

When a demographic breakdown of Toronto neighbourhoods hit hardest by the pandemic was released at the end of May, data showed that the highest concentration of cases were in northwest and northeast Toronto, specifically northern Etobicoke, parts of North York and northern Scarborough. 

Those neighbourhoods still are seeing higher rates of infection according to city data, even as the Waterfront neighbourhood is experiencing more community spread. 

Weston, West Humber-Clairville, Kingsview Village-The Westway, Malvern and Downsview are just some Toronto neighbourhoods that have continued to see cases climb this month as well.

These are neighbourhoods with higher portions of multi-unit residences and low-income residents, and where more people of colour live. Eighty-three percent of Toronto’s COVID-19 cases are Black people and other people of colour, according to July data from the City of Toronto. 

Continued city supports are required for these regions that still bear the brunt of Toronto’s COVID-19 cases, said Arjumand Siddiqi, an associate professor at Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the Canada Research Chair in population health equity.

Short-term solutions like isolation centres to help those who do not live in a space where quarantining is possible along with providing better public transit to jobs where people can distance easier are some things the city needs to continue to tackle the issue, she said.

But long-term solutions will involve a more comprehensive poverty-reduction strategy, she explained.

“COVID is the umpteenth health outcome to show a disparity because we never get to that conversation about what we fundamentally need to do to fix the fact that health care is unequally distributed.”