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Montreal’s poorest neighbor hoods families are devastated due to COVID-19

Posted in Community, Featured

Published on May 15, 2020 with No Comments

‘Anyone who sees these health inequalities emerge is completely unsurprised,’ says public health ethicist.

Over the phone, the voice of Marie Missoule Michaud’s two-year-old son rings out in the background: “Papa, papa.”

“He still asks for him. He looks for him all over,” Michaud says.

Her son’s father, Sony Innocent, 39, died two weeks ago from what Michaud believes were complications of the coronavirus, though he was never tested.

Michaud says it started with a fever Innocent attributed at first to the bouts of malaria he’d experienced since he was a child in Haiti. But when the fever went away, he got a bad cough.

Then, on April 30, his lungs started hurting, and he had trouble breathing.

Michaud called 911, but Innocent died as paramedics were putting on their protective equipment outside the couple’s Montréal-Nord apartment complex.

“I was screaming, and I could see police officers running so fast toward the house,” said Michaud. “But it was too late.”

She isn’t sure how Innocent might have caught the virus. He worked at a plastics factory and had been deemed an essential worker, heading out every day while others stayed home.

Half the population is from a visible minority, and more than 40 per cent are immigrants. 

Montreal has now recorded more than 20,000 cases and more than 2,100 deaths — and with no immediate downturn in sight, the situation remains so grim that Premier François Legault has halted plans to reopen schools in the metropolitan region before the fall.The first COVID-19 cases were transmitted by travellers returning from the province’s early March break.

But two months later, the virus has spread quickly through poorer boroughs, including Montréal-Nord, Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Ahuntsic-Cartierville, while early outbreaks in more affluent areas have been better contained.

For public health experts, the pattern was “completely predictable.”

“Anyone who sees these health inequalities emerge is completely unsurprised,” said Nicholas King, a professor at McGill University in Montreal who conducts research in public health ethics and policy.

Studies bear this out, he said: People living in low-income neighbourhoods are more susceptible to illness, for a number of reasons.

The neighbourhoods are densely populated, with more multigenerational families.

More residents work in jobs where they are likely to be exposed to illness — stocking shelves or working the cash register in grocery stores, or at the bottom rung of the health-care sector, as orderlies and cleaners.


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