Statement from Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health, on Racism, Social Inequities and Health


In light of recent tragic events involving violence against the Black community south of the border, I’d like to reiterate our position that racism is a public health issue of ongoing concern both abroad and here in Canada. Racism, whether it is directed against Black, Indigenous, First Nations, Asian or other communities, is unacceptable in all forms. As Canadians, we must work together to shed light on racism where it exists, to acknowledge it and to eradicate it.

Racism creates a climate in which violent incidents can occur without scrutiny and consequences, and we must not tolerate this. But the impacts of racism are insidious and widespread, extending beyond violent incidents. It is a well-known public health fact that racism is a social determinant of health. Victims of racism are disproportionately susceptible to social disadvantages and physical and mental health impacts. Social inequities, isolation and segregation cause higher rates of both mental and physical illness in victims of racism. The current pandemic is no exception, as it has become clear that socially disadvantaged populations have a higher susceptibility to severe illness and death caused by COVID-19.

The latest tragic and senseless murder of an African American man by police has very rightly sparked a tremendous outflow of anger, grief and frustration across the globe. The angst that has been displayed by protesters worldwide has brought to the forefront the underlying outrage towards entrenched social and structural racism. Demonstrations are playing an important role in compelling authorities and individuals to confront and examine the issue of racism.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit supports the right to peaceful demonstrations demanding social change. However, I would like to encourage everyone to do so in a way that protects both themselves and others, especially during the ongoing threat of our current pandemic. You may want to consider virtual alternatives to show your support, especially if you or someone in your household is at greater risk for serious illness from COVID-19. If you are sick or have any possible COVID-19 symptoms, it’s important to stay at home and follow public health instructions.

If you choose to participate in a demonstration, please do the following to protect yourself and others from COVID-19:

  • At all times, try to keep a minimum distance of 2 metres (6 ft) from other participants.
  • Wear a mask for added protection. Avoid touching your face or the mask.
  • Bring hand sanitizer and use it often.
  • Avoid shouting because it can project respiratory droplets into the air and onto people. Instead, use signs, drums or musical instruments to express your support.
  • Don’t share water, food, posters or other items.

Following the demonstration:

  • Remove and wash your clothes immediately.
  • Shower as soon as you can.
  • Disinfect any materials that you carried.
  • Monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested if needed.
  • Avoid contact with those who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease (e.g. older people, those with pre-existing health conditions).