OTTAWA -- A majority of the Ottawa residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past six weeks were visible minorities and immigrants to Canada, according to Ottawa Public Health.

The health unit provided an "early socio-demographic data" report to city council on Wednesday.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches says since May 8, 66 per cent of the 144 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been from racialized groups. The report from Ottawa Public Health shows 54 per cent of the new cases are immigrants to Canada.

"This is preliminary, but the pattern we're seeing is that we're seeing over-representation of people who are racialized," said Dr. Etches.

The medical officer of health notes that while 66 per cent of new COVID-19 cases in Ottawa are from racialized groups, 26 per cent of Ottawa's population are identified as a visible minority.

Dr. Etches says areas in Ottawa with the highest proportion of recent immigrants or racialized minorities have rates of COVID-19 almost twice that of areas with the fewest recent immigrants or racialized minorities. (The data excludes COVID-19 cases in long-term care homes, retirement homes, hospitals, shelters and group homes).

The report also said that areas in Ottawa with the "most material deprivation have rates of COVID-19 almost twice that of areas with the least material deprivation."

Dr. Etches told Council that Ottawa Public Health is collecting data retrospectively to have a more comprehensive socio-demographic picture of the COVID-19 situation in Ottawa.

Speaking to reporters after the council meeting, Dr. Etches said the issue is society-wide and not just a public health issue.

"The data is pointing to the exposure risk coming from employment that puts people at higher risk, it's lower-income employment. These are sectors that go way beyond public health for influencing," she said. "There are many different factors where we have to look across all of society about why is it that racialized populations tend to have lower incomes or tend to have other challenges or barriers when you look across many determinants of health."

This is not a new problem, she said.

"This has gone on for decades and centuries and we need to collectively improve that. Public Health's role is to hold ourselves accountable, to show that information that needs to change and then work with partners to make sure programs and services mitigate that difference and policies change so that determinants improve."

Mayor Jim Watson called the data concerning.

"Obviously it's concerning to me as mayor, when you see those figures," he said. "We have to do a better job in terms of collecting data so we can reach out to various communities sooner and more efficiently to see what we can do to help prevent the spread of the virus to those individuals."

Ottawa's Board of Health declared racism a public health issue last week.

Positive trend of COVID-19

The medical officer of health told Council the COVID-19 trend in Ottawa is "positive."

Dr. Etches says the case counts are decreasing, and the number of hospitalizations is continuing to drop. The report for Wednesday's Council meeting said COVID-19 testing volumes is up, while the per cent of positive cases is down.

As of June 23, there are 2065 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ottawa, including 262 deaths.

Dr. Etches told Council there is still an "ongoing risk" of COVID-19 in Ottawa, and it's important to continue to practice physical distancing.

Ottawa Public Health's COVID-19 dashboard still puts the city in the "orange" category in terms of overall status, meaning OPH is seeing "decreasing spread and few outbreaks, some hospital capacity and some health-care worker infections, some ability to isolate cases/quarantine contacts, and 50-75% testing capacity."

When it comes to moving into the "yellow" category, Dr. Etches told reporters she wants to wait a few more weeks.

"There's no one measure that tells us we've passed that threshold, but I think we're close," she said. "My hesitation to move right into yellow is because we haven't had enough time pass yet as we've gone through the exercise of starting up business and activity in new ways. I want to see the impact of that for a number of weeks before going forward with a signal that things are still on a good track."