Gender Differences in COVID-19 Cases and Deaths: The Impact on Women in Canada

By Grace Martin 


As of May 22nd 2020, women make up 55% of COVID-19 cases in Canada [1]. A different trend is seen in COVID-19-related hospitalizations and ICU admissions, where the majority of patients are male (54% and 64%, respectively). However, when analyzing COVID-19 deaths, 52% are female and 48% are male [1]. This trend is especially alarming, since Canada has the highest proportion of female COVID-19 deaths worldwide [2]. 

In Ontario, one of the hardest-hit provinces, 56.5% of COVID-19 cases are currently women [3]. Taking a deeper dive into public data, trends in the province become apparent. The total prevalence of cases among all age groups are 145.9/100,000 in males and 187.4/100,000 in females, with the largest gender disparity seen in the 80-90 and 90+ age groups [3]. Women in Canada have a longer life expectancy and make up a larger proportion of the older age groups. Yet, even when looking at rates per 100,000 individuals and controlling for this variable in those aged 80 and older, the gender discrepancy is still evident [3]. COVID-19-related deaths in Ontario show similar data to the rest of the country, where 47% are male and 53% are female. For those who prefer visualizations, the most up to date graphs and data are available here: https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/data-and-analysis/infectious-disease/covid-19-data-surveillance/covid-19-data-tool

The data that is emerging here in Canada is different from what is seen in other countries, where there is a male predominance in the number of COVID cases and deaths [2,4]. Explanations for these gender differences have yet to be clearly identified; however, one area of interest is long-term care homes. 

Long-term care homes continue to be hotspots for infection across the country. The Globe and Mail reported that in Quebec and Ontario, more than 70% of residents are women and more than 80% of personal support workers (PSWs) and nurses are also women [5]. A recent military report highlights the significant and unacceptable challenges that staff and residents are facing currently in Ontario long-term care homes [6]. Key issues highlighted in the report include low availability and improper use of PPE, inadequate staffing, and poor living standards [6]. The Ontario government continues to investigate the current situation. A recent international survey also suggests that Canada has the highest percentage of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes compared to 14 other countries [4]. Ontario data also supports this by demonstrating that the largest gender disparity exists in those aged 80 and older [3]. 

As more data continue to emerge, it is important to understand that other data with respect to race and socioeconomic status also must be collected. Gender disparities rarely exist in isolation, and until we know which women are affected, we cannot develop specific strategies to assist them in this trying time.  

References 

  1. Government of Canada. COVID-19 In Canada: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Daily Epidemiology Update. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/documents/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/surv-covid19-epi-update-eng.pdf
  2. Global Health 50/50. COVID-19 sex-disaggregated data tracker. Available from: https://globalhealth5050.org/covid19/sex-disaggregated-data-tracker/
  3. Public Health Ontario. Ontario COVID-19 Data Tool. Available from: https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/data-and-analysis/infectious-disease/covid-19-data-surveillance/covid-19-data-tool
  4. International Long-Term Care Policy Network. Mortality associated with COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes: early international evidence. Available from: .https://ltccovid.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Mortality-associated-with-COVID-3-May-final-2.pdf
  5. Perreaux L. Women make up over half of COVID-19 deaths in Canada, counter to trends in most of the world. The Globe and Mail [Internet]. Available from: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-women-make-up-over-half-of-covid-19-deaths-in-canada-counter-to/
  6. A Letter: Ontario Request for Assistance in Provincial Long Term Care Facilities. Fed Min PS Blair to Ont SOLGEN Joines, 24 Apr 20 and B. 3350-1 (J33) JTF-LR Task Order 003 – JTFC Op LASER 20-01, 26 Apr 20. Available from: https://www.macleans.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/JTFC-Observations-in-LTCF-in-ON.pdf