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Shelter-in-place mandates and closure of nonessential businesses have been central to COVID19 response strategies including in Toronto, Canada. Approximately half of the working population in Canada are employed in occupations that do not allow for remote work suggesting potentially limited impact of some of the strategies proposed to mitigate COVID-19 acquisition and onward transmission risks and associated morbidity and mortality. We compared per-capita rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths from January 23, 2020 to January 24, 2021, across neighborhoods in Toronto by proportion of the population working in essential services. We used person-level data on laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 community cases and deaths, and census data for neighborhood-level attributes. Cumulative per-capita rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths were 3.3-fold and 2.5-fold higher, respectively, in neighborhoods with the highest versus lowest concentration of essential workers. Findings suggest that the population who continued to serve the essential needs of society throughout COVID-19 shouldered a disproportionate burden of transmission and deaths. Taken together, results signal the need for active intervention strategies to complement restrictive measures to optimize both the equity and effectiveness of COVID-19 responses.

Original publication




Journal article


Annals of Epidemiology

Publication Date





63 - 67