In 2014, my 92-year old father died in a Vancouver nursing home. My mother had died several years before, also in a residential care facility. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve said, even on Twitter, that I’m relieved my parents aren’t living through this horrific experience. It is heart-wrenching for families in this situation.

Screengrab Twiiter

I was so grateful to the care aides and nurses who took care of my father throughout the eight months he was in a facility that, after he died,  I wrote a tribute for the many Filipinos who provide care in private homes, residential facilities, and hospitals. Filipino health care workers are known for their work ethic, selflessness, dedication, warmth, compassion, and communal spirit – all qualities which help make them ideal caregivers. Acute and long term care facilities are perennially understaffed. I often ruminate how the health care system would even function without Filipinos.

On the Broadbent Insitute blog, Ethel Tungohan, a Canada Research Chair and assistant professor at York University, says: “… Filipinos constitute 1.2% of the Canadian workforce, (but) they constitute 5.6% of Canada’s total health care aide labour force.” Because of their large numbers in health care, Filipinos must surely be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But hard data with race and ethnicity analysis is not being collected in B.C.

Yet death notices and news stories are clearly showing how hard COVID-19 is hitting Filipinos, not just in health care, but in factories as well.

In B.C., a Filipino advocacy group has called on the provincial government to collect race and ethnicity data to show how the pandemic is affecting those working in health care. RJ Aquino, director of the Tulayan Filipino Diaspora Society, has said that would confirm whether certain groups categorized as essential workers are harder hit; knowing that could lead to better (culturally sensitive) training, policies, and practices.

While Filipino health care workers represent a large cohort in health care all over North America, the COVID-19 pandemic is obviously taking an outsize toll on all those working in health care facilities where they face clear and present dangers every time they interact with COVID-19 patients. A report released today in B.C. shows that as of April 28, 428 healthcare workers tested positive for COVID-19. That’s a whopping 21 percent of known cases. So far, 85 percent have recovered but one worker – a Filipino health care worker – died. The B.C. proportion matches the experience in Italy. In Ontario, a recent report says that about 15 percent of COVID cases are among those working in health care. But the number of cases among healthcare workers alone in Ontario – about 2,200 – rivals the total number of all known cases so far in B.C.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, recognizes the importance of collecting more and better data and she has recently said there are discussions underway about how to start acquiring race and ethnicity data from COVID-19 patients. My opinion is that any such initiative should be retrospective so that the more than 2,200 cases of BC residents who have already tested positive are included in the dataset.

On the health news STAT website, writer Usha Lee McFarling has written a sad piece about the many Filipino nurses who’ve gotten COVID-19, partly because of their close proximity to ill patients, lack of adequate protective gear and long hours they’re working. And in the Tyee, an article describes how Filipinos are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because they are on the frontlines, in essential jobs –  healthcare, food production, and cleaning services.

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