Briefing for August 9-13, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for August 9-13, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

We are struck that one of the few certainties about the coronavirus outbreak is that low-income communities and workers in low-income, service sector occupations will be disproportionately impacted — likely in devastating fashion.

One step in combatting this will be to share information about what is happening and what can be done. That’s why we are offering a daily news service summarizing relevant stories, which you can read below.

If you would like to receive a daily briefing, feel free to email to subscribe.

Briefing for August 13, 2021

First round of child tax credit payments slashed hunger rates, data shows: Politico reports: “The percentage of American families with kids who report not having enough to eat fell dramatically after the first child tax credit payments were distributed last month, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The government’s finding shows that the monthly payments are having a major and immediate impact on millions of households, potentially bolstering President Joe Biden’s push to extend the tax credit past the end of this year, when it is set to expire. ‘It is great news that the estimated rate of hunger among those with children is at a pandemic low,’ said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, who has been closely tracking food hardship rates throughout the pandemic. The monthly payments of up to $300 for each kid under five and up to $250 for each kid under 18 are the result of one of the most sweeping provisions in the American Rescue Plan, though the policy did not garner much media attention at the time. The payments are set to continue each month through December. Before the first tranche of tax credit payments hit bank accounts in mid-July, about 11% of households with children reported that they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the past week. After the money went out, the rate dropped to just over 8% — a decrease of nearly 24% — and the lowest rate recorded since the beginning of the pandemic. Researchers say it is too early to fully understand the latest drop in hunger rates, but it appears to be closely tied to the child tax credit payments. Households with children saw a major decline, while adults in households with no children saw virtually no change over the same period, with about 6% reporting a lack of food sometimes or often.” 

In spite of benefit boost, SNAP still falls short in rural areas: From the Daily Yonder: “Before a pandemic-related 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, in 96% of U.S. counties the maximum SNAP benefit did not cover the cost of a modestly priced meal. The program, which is used at higher rates in rural areas, fell short of monthly food costs by an average of $39.99 per person, according to a recent report by the Urban Institute. Among the 10% of counties with the largest gap between food costs and maximum benefits, that number was $69.75 per person. With the temporary 15% increase in benefits, food costs exceed maximum benefits in 40.5% of counties. In rural Leelanau County, Michigan, where the gap is the highest in the nation, the average modestly priced meal costs $3.90 more than SNAP provides, even after the temporary increase. While food costs are lower on average in nonmetropolitan counties, many rural tourism destinations see higher prices, said Elaine Waxman, Urban Institute senior fellow. Rural recreation counties such as Nevada County, California, Pacific County, Washington, Blaine County, Idaho, and Teton County, Wyoming are all among the top 10 highest-gap counties. Only two of the 10 highest-gap counties are metropolitan. ‘I think that’s an interesting conundrum for rural areas because in some ways tourism is obviously important to the economy, but it also means that people who live there year-round probably face a higher set of prices,’ said Waxman.” 

COVID long-haulers spark calls for increased disability funding: Bloomberg CityLab explores a new report from the Center for American Progress that “increased funding could be put toward higher pay for direct care workers; housing programs such as rental assistance; nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; and disability insurance” in anticipation of large numbers of Americans qualifying for disability assistance because of long-term COVID-19 complications. From the piece: “’If only 10% of the 34 million Americans that were affected by COVID-19 get long-haul symptoms and try to apply for these services, our system that is already overwhelmed and underfunded is going to collapse,’ Megan Buckles, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress’ Disability Justice Initiative, said at a panel ahead of the report’s release.” 

In Texas, a quarantine camp for migrants with COVID: The New York Times reports from Mission, Texas: “On the edge of the Rio Grande in South Texas, sprawling Anzalduas Park has long been a popular spot for bird-watching, family cookouts, and fishing. But earlier this month, the grassland expanse with barbecue grills and picnic tables was put off-limits, transformed into a large COVID-19 quarantine camp for migrants who have crossed from Mexico. Buses now pull in to deposit passengers under a large circular pavilion, where bedraggled families form a line, waiting to be tested for the coronavirus. Those who test positive must remain at the camp, often with their families, until they are virus-free. By this week, at least 1,000 migrants were housed at the teeming camp, erected by the nearby city of McAllen as an emergency measure to contain the spread of the virus beyond the southwestern border. About 1,000 others are quarantined elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley, some of them in hotel rooms paid for by a private charity. Cities in South Texas, the busiest crossing points along the border, are now at a harrowing place where two international crises intersect: an escalating surge of migrants and the rise of the Delta variant of the virus, forcing city leaders and nongovernment organizations to step up testing and quarantine operations as the Border Patrol continues to refrain from testing newly arrived migrants.” 

Homelessness fell across major metro areas after the 2008 recession  experts fear that pattern will change with COVID: A report by the Brookings Institution finds that homelessness actually fell in many major metro areas in the years after the 2008 recession but cautions that the pandemic may have a very different impact. “The COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on housing markets are not directly parallel to the impacts of the Great Recession. Crucially, while the Great Recession was triggered by a massive wave of foreclosures among owner-occupied homes, then spilled over into rental markets, job losses in the pandemic have hit renter households far harder than homeowners. Because renters earn lower incomes and have less wealth than homeowners, job losses concentrated among renters are more likely to translate into increased housing insecurity, doubling-up, and potentially greater homelessness. Based on past research, we would expect the largest increases in places with expensive housing, limited availability of rental housing, and where COVID-19 has hit jobs the hardest — metro areas like Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Policymakers trying to address housing insecurity are hampered by inadequate real-time data on housing distress. Weekly unemployment filings have been useful in following the pandemic’s impacts on labor markets, advising when and where to target additional resources. But we have no equivalent frequently reported measure of housing distress, especially for tracking the well-being of renter households.” 

Briefing for August 12, 2021

After eight months, cities and states are still sitting on rental aid: Huffington Post reports: “With a national ban on evictions gone and a more targeted moratorium on evictions in legal limbo, governments at all levels are injecting more urgency into getting federal rental assistance to struggling Americans. The amount is significant: $46.5 billion, a sum that nearly matches the entire annual budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. States, counties, and cities with populations of at least 200,000 were eligible for the money, which offers up to 15 months of rental assistance to low-income individuals (12 months of past-due payments and three months for the future). But that money has been incredibly slow in getting to the people who need it the most. Through June, only 15 states and the District of Columbia had spent 10% or more of their Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds, which were initially approved by Congress in December. And in roughly 40 states, counties, and cities, not a single cent from ERAP made it out the door during that time, according to an analysis of Treasury Department data by HuffPost. Some of those places were smaller counties, but others were states (New York at $801 million) or territories (Puerto Rico at $325 million) sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars.” 

The eviction moratorium won’t save renters — or landlords: Writing for Politico, Gary Painter, a professor in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC, makes the case that more housing aid is needed: “We knew more than a year ago that, at some point, eviction moratoria would end, and there likely wouldn’t be enough rental assistance to cover all back rent owed by tenants. We needed a long-term plan last summer, and sadly, we still need a plan to stabilize the rental market or face a devastating wave of evictions. The question is, how can lawmakers in Washington dig out of an ever-widening hole? The cleanest solution would be a government-financed loan program that would benefit both tenants and landlords. It needs to be federal. At this point, only Washington has the scale and scope to head off a crisis whose costs have the potential to tick into the tens of billions with far-reaching, long-term impacts on renters. It needs to provide landlords an immediate guarantee of the recovery of a substantial portion of back rent so that the rental market will restabilize. And a loan program, rather than additional rental assistance to tenants or landlords, solves several of the underlying issues: Tenants do owe back rent, and to pretend otherwise could invite moral hazard on a huge scale. It’s politically more viable, in part, because directly footing a future bill that remains unknown would leave American taxpayers with additional COVID-19 debt beyond the direct costs of the pandemic.” 

The lesson from the past year — poverty is a policy choice: A smart explainer from Dylan Matthews at Vox underlines a key finding from the pandemic experience: “In 2020 and 2021, the federal government gave Americans an unprecedented amount of money. A big part of the US’s response to COVID-19 was strengthening the existing safety net, or providing relief specific to particular types of spending, like food or housing. Food stamp/SNAP benefits were raisedEvictions were barred nationwide for over a year. But the core of the response was an unprecedentedly large and inclusive set of stimulus checks directly shoveling money to most Americans. In three rounds — March and December 2020 and March 2021 — most adult Americans got $3,200 each, and most American children got $2,500. Then, starting in July 2021, most American children started getting $250 every month, with young kids getting $300 a month. These are broad-based policies with only quite wealthy Americans excluded from benefits. The first round of stimulus payments, for instance, were available to 93% of Americans, with only the richest 7% left out. But unlike stimulus checks passed during the 2001 and 2008 downturns, the 2020-2021 checks were universal at the bottom of the income scale. They had no work requirement or requirement that recipients paid federal taxes in the past. That means that the stimulus checks should have had a profound effect on poverty this past year or so — and that’s exactly what researchers are finding.” 

10 states have mask mandates while eight forbid them: From the Associated Press: “By the end of this week, roughly half of the nation’s more than 50 million public school students will be back in class. But as parents stock up on notebooks and pencils, it’s still unclear in much of the country whether they’ll be sending their kids to school with masks. In reaction to Delta-variant-fueled spikes in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in most states, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in late July that all schools require students, teachers, and visitors to wear masks. States’ responses to the new guidelines since then have remained in flux. As of last week, 10 states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington — and the District of Columbia had adopted the CDC’s recommendations, requiring all students, teachers, and visitors to wear masks in public schools. Thirty-two states have left the thorny mask decision up to school districts and parents. And eight states — Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina, Texas ,and Utah — have enacted laws or issued executive orders prohibiting school districts from requiring students to wear masks. Arkansas’ law was blocked by a court last week even as lawmakers considered amending it. And on Monday, two Texas counties asked a court to issue a temporary restraining order against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.” 

Elder Index tracks senior costs to meet basic needs: The coronavirus pandemic has compounded the already significant economic anxiety of older Americans, forcing many to take early retirement and countless others to face unexpected housing or health crises. The Elder Index, developed by the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, is a measure of the income that older adults need to meet their basic needs and age in place with dignity. The Elder Index is specific to household size, location, housing tenure, and health status and factors in costs for health care, transportation, food, and miscellaneous essentials. UMB professor of gerontology Jan Mutchler spoke with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity recently about the latest trends the Index is picking up as well as the new challenges older Americans face as a result of the pandemic.  

Judge tells Missouri it can no longer deny Medicaid to patients under new expansion: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that a Cole County judge on Tuesday ordered Missouri officials “not to deny coverage to patients newly eligible for Medicaid under the state’s voter-approved expansion, a major win for proponents who have long pushed for the increased access to health care. Circuit Judge Jon Beetem said the state was barred ‘from prohibiting individuals eligible under’ Medicaid expansion from ‘enrolling in the MO HealthNet program as of July 1, 2021.’ He also blocked the state from imposing on expanded Medicaid enrollees ‘any greater or additional burdens or restrictions on eligibility or enrollment’ than on those who were already eligible. Chuck Hatfield, a Jefferson City attorney representing three clients suing the state for health care, said after Beetem’s order that ‘it basically means they’ve got to get started on it (enrollment) and they’ve got to start moving these applications ahead.’ ‘We think the department will in good faith begin to process’ the new applications, Hatfield said.” 

Briefing for August 11, 2021

Rural America can’t escape Delta variant: Politico reports: “Senior Biden health officials have for weeks worried internally about the low vaccine uptake in rural, conservative counties across the country. Federal experts have predicted those communities would experience large increases in COVID-19 cases where access to sufficient health care is limited. To address the issue, the White House last month announced it would send $100 million to rural communities to help local health officials convince people to get vaccinated. With Delta spreading rapidly nationwide, fears about hard-hit rural areas are becoming realities in many states, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama — and now Wyoming. ‘There are times where I’ve seen what’s happening in other counties or other states, and I think, Maybe the rural nature of our community is protecting us to some extent,’ said Kim Proffitt, the public health nurse and county manager for Uinta County. ‘And then things like the last three weeks happen and I think, not so much. Delta can spread in a rural community just like it can in an urban community — and especially if, in those rural communities, people are not being very cautious.’ Wyoming’s case positivity rate has increased by 80% in the last two weeks. It now stands at 13%, making the whole state a ‘high transmission area’ according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 outbreaks have popped up in counties along the borders of Montana and Utah along major throughways often occupied by long-haul truckers coming in from out of state.” 

Native students were knocked off the college track by pandemic: From the Hechinger Report: “Even before the pandemic, American Indian and Alaska Native students had the highest high school dropout rate and lowest college enrollment rate of any U.S. racial group. In 2018, just 24% of Native Americans age 18 to 24 were enrolled in college, compared to 41% of the overall population in that age group, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Then, in fall 2020, the number of Native students attending college for the first time fell by nearly a quarter, compared with a 13% drop for all first-year, first-time students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Experts worry about the long-term economic impact on Native communities if students continue to forgo college in large numbers. ‘It is going to affect our tribal economies, it’s going to affect the health and wellness … of our tribal people,’ said Diana Cournoyer, executive director of the nonprofit National Indian Education Association and a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe. Native college graduates often come back to their communities and work in schools and health clinics, which had trouble attracting enough people to fill these essential jobs even before this past year, she said.” 

As students return, most Florida schools report COVID cases four times greater than last year: USA Today looks at the impact of the Delta variant outbreak in Florida on the state’s school system. “Most Florida children are returning to school in areas where COVID-19 outbreaks are far more intense than they were when school started last year. In most counties, cases are at least four times higher than a year ago, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Five counties report a more than tenfold increase. Cases among children are surging, too, raising questions about the health consequences of students returning to campuses and a state ban on school mask mandates while vaccines are available for only some of the schoolchildren. Public health experts and pediatricians said last fall that the most important factor to consider when deciding whether to start classes in-person was the amount of viral spread in the community at large. With cases so much higher than last year, districts are going against those recommendations by welcoming students to campus and limiting online learning options. Those moves follow instructions from the state government, which also prohibited schools from requiring masks for all children. Over the seven days before last Friday’s state report, Florida saw 13,596 cases among children under 12, and 13,858 cases among ages 12 to 19.” 

Mississippi has no ICU beds left: From the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: “There are no intensive care unit beds left in Mississippi because of climbing hospitalizations due to the coronavirus, state health officials said on various social media platforms on Monday. In a tweet, State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said emergency rooms are bursting at the seams, with more than 200 people around the state waiting for a hospital bed. ‘Keep in mind — this will translate into around 500 new hospitalizations in coming days, and we have ZERO ICU beds at Level 1-3 hospitals, and … (more than) 200 patients waiting in ERs for a room,’ Dobbs tweeted. Not only may help for patients with coronavirus infections be delayed, people suffering from emergent medical conditions like strokes and heart attacks are at risk of not getting the level of care they need. The maxed-out capacity comes as the Mississippi State Department of Health reported nearly 6,912 new COVID-19 cases spanning Friday through Sunday. On average, that’s about 2,300 new cases reported each day. While Gov. Tate Reeves has said he has no intention of mandating mask-wearing, a coronavirus prevention tool he repealed in March, he backed vaccination on Monday. ‘It was recently said nationally that the Delta variant was becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ Reeves wrote in a Monday tweet. ‘The most recent data from Mississippi suggest the same.'” 

Salt Lake study  Residents of low-income neighborhoods got COVID at a 10 times higher rate: The Salt Lake (Utah) Tribune reports: “Residents of Salt Lake County’s least-affluent ZIP codes contracted the coronavirus nearly 10 times more often, per capita, than residents of the most affluent areas, according to U. researchers Daniel Mendoza and Tabitha Benney. ‘We were shocked at the nearly tenfold difference in contagion rate increase when comparing the groups we had defined,’ Mendoza said. ‘I think it was a very sobering moment when we realized how deep the disparities truly were in our own backyard,’ added Benney. About one-quarter of Utah’s population are racial minorities, who have accounted for about one-third of the state’s COVID-19 cases. ‘The first time our team crunched the numbers,’ Benney said, ‘We were all dismayed to see how well income and occupation related to COVID-19 incidence rates.’ Benney, an associate professor of political science, and Mendoza, a research assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, discovered that during the 2020 lockdowns, more residents in affluent neighborhoods in Salt Lake County were able to stay at home than residents of the least affluent ZIP codes. And that, they argue in a study published in the journal COVID, suggests that the ‘essential worker’ jobs held by residents of the least-affluent areas — which also have the highest percentage of minority residents — put them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19.” 

Briefing for August 10, 2021

COVID exposed our inequities — Long COVID may exacerbate them: The PBS NewsHour looks at the disproportionate impact of long COVID in underserved communities through an interview with freelance reporter Karina Piser. Piser told the broadcast: “So, you know, we have seen the way that the disease itself of COVID-19 has played out. It has affected the low-income communities of color more than any others. And we also know what the state of health care looks like in this country. And the pandemic brought a lot of that to life. Safety net hospitals were ill equipped to deal with the influx of patients early in the pandemic, and they do not necessarily have the means to create these long COVID clinics. Similarly, in rural communities, the number of hospitals in rural America has decreased dramatically over the past decade. Same with community health centers that are kind of, you know, often the first recourse for low-income communities that has already been depleted. And so the communities that were hit the hardest by the pandemic are not only going to have the most difficulty accessing care, going to these major medical centers where these long COVID clinics are emerging that are often in major cities where people in rural communities, they might not even know they exist. But also, it’s difficult to get there if you don’t have transportation. It’s difficult to miss work. There are so many reasons why people are being excluded from the treatment that is available.” 

Families of high-risk children despair over COVID resurgence: The New York Times finds that parents of high-risk children are once more wracked with worry as a result of the Delta variant. “Case counts among U.S. children have been steadily increasing over the summer. In one week at the end of July, the number of new cases doubled to 71,726 from 38,654 the previous week, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics. There is no estimate for how many American children are at higher risk from COVID-19 because of medical conditions, said Dr. Dennis Z. Kuo, a pediatrics specialist in Buffalo and former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities. But he estimates about 19% of children have special health care needs, and 1% have severe medical complications. Within those groups, he said, children with heart, lung, or immune system disorders are especially at risk from the coronavirus, as well as those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Jay Berry, the chief of complex care at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that children with underlying medical conditions in his hospital had taken months or longer to recover from COVID-19, and that there was no clear data on the long-term risks that the virus poses to them. ‘Those are the children, in my mind, that we worry about the most,’ he said.” 

How misinformation and fear create vaccine deserts in central California: The Sacramento Bee looks deeper into why only 43% of residents in Tulare County are vaccinated — well below the statewide average of 63%. In the city of Tipton, an unincorporated community in Tulare County, about 38% of the town’s 3,238 residents live in poverty and almost all are Latino immigrants and farmworkers. “Community advocates say the county’s poorest residents, many of whom lack access to transportation and critical healthcare resources, face particular challenges getting vaccinated. Residents living in unincorporated areas in the Valley like Tipton are among the poorest in the state, lacking basic necessities such as potable drinking water, sewer systems, safe housing, or paved roads and streets. These residents often live in poor conditions due to decades of disinvestment and deteriorating infrastructure, said Mari Perez-Ruiz, executive director of the Central Valley Empowerment Alliance Services, a grassroots organization that advocates on behalf of the Valley’s rural and disadvantaged populations. They also lack political representation from a city council or access to many local resources like a fire department, hospital, or a police station. These conditions can sew distrust in government, she said. During a pandemic, that could explain why many residents in unincorporated areas are more likely to believe misinformation circulating within their communities rather than advice from government officials or public health departments, she said.” 

For the first time, average pay for supermarket and restaurant workers tops $15 an hour: From the Washington Post: “The U.S. labor market hit a new milestone recently: For the first time, average pay in restaurants and supermarkets climbed above $15 an hour. Wages have been rising rapidly as the economy reopens and businesses struggle to hire enough workers. Some of the biggest gains have gone to workers in some of the lowest-paying industries. Overall, nearly 80% of U.S. workers now earn at least $15 an hour, up from 60% in 2014. Job sites and recruiting firms say many job seekers won’t even consider jobs that pay less than $15 anymore. For years, low-paid workers fought to make at least that much. Now it has effectively become the new baseline. As competition for workers heats up, large employers are taking notice and bumping up starting pay. CVS said it will increase starting pay from $11 to $15 by next summer, joining other large employers like TargetBest Buy, Costco, and Disney. When major employers raise their wages, it pushes smaller competitors in the area to follow suit, Brandeis and Princeton researchers recently found. The overall effect has been one of the fastest periods of rising wages since the early 1980s for rank-and-file workers and a clear spike from pre-pandemic trends. This higher pay is likely to be permanent as wages rarely fall once they move up.” 

Judge mulls blocking Biden’s new eviction ban: From Politico: “A federal judge suggested Monday that the Biden administration was engaging in legal ‘gamesmanship’ in order to resurrect a pandemic-related eviction ban despite an indication from the Supreme Court that the measure was unlawful. U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich made the pointed remark at a hearing on a request by real estate brokers and landlords to block the new policy the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rolled out last week. President Joe Biden let a previous eviction moratorium expire at the end of July but revived the restrictions Tuesday after he came under intense pressure from liberal lawmakers and activists. ‘Given that this order is almost identical to the CDC’s earlier order, as to the effect of it, it’s really hard … to conclude that there’s not a degree of gamesmanship going on,’ Friedrich said. Brett Shumate, a lawyer for Alabama and Georgia Realtors challenging the anti-eviction measure, told Friedrich that the rejiggering of the ban last week amounted to an effort by the Biden administration to defy rulings from federal courts, including the Supreme Court. The new moratorium, which expires Oct. 3, applies to areas with high levels of COVID-19 transmission — currently about 80% of counties. ‘The court should not tolerate the government getting away with it,’ Shumate said.” 

Briefing for August 9, 2021

Racial disparity in vaccinations appears to be narrowing: From USA Today: “Months into the nation’s unprecedented COVID-19 vaccination effort, disparities in vaccinating underserved populations have been stark, with data showing white people getting the shot at faster rates than Black and Hispanic people. Experts say that could be changing, as fears mount amid the new case surge and grassroots vaccination efforts begin to pay off. Over the past two weeks, people of color have been vaccinated with a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine more than white people when compared to their shares of the population, according to the latest CDC data. Though race and ethnicity information is only available for about 60% of the U.S. population, it shows a glint of promise, experts say. While Hispanic and Latino people make up 17% of the nation’s population, they totaled more than a quarter of those who initiated vaccination in the past two weeks. Similarly, Black people, who make up about 12% of the U.S. population, accounted for 15% of those receiving a first dose. During the same period, as new COVID-19 cases climbed in areas with low vaccination rates, white people were underrepresented in the vaccine line. Of those who initiated their first dose, 44% were white, though the group makes up 61% of the population.” 

The kindergarten exodus: A sobering analysis from the New York Times: “As the pandemic upended life in the United States, more than one million children who had been expected to enroll in (local public) schools did not show up, either in person or online. The missing students were concentrated in the younger grades, with the steepest drop in kindergarten — more than 340,000 students, according to government data. Now, the first analysis of enrollment at 70,000 public schools across 33 states offers a detailed portrait of these kindergartners. It shows that just as the pandemic lay bare vast disparities in health care and income, it also hardened inequities in education, setting back some of the most vulnerable students before they spent even one day in a classroom. The analysis by The New York Times in conjunction with Stanford University shows that in those 33 states, 10,000 local public schools lost at least 20% of their kindergartners. In 2019 and in 2018, only 4,000 or so schools experienced such steep drops. The months of closed classrooms took a toll on nearly all students, and families of all levels of income and education scrambled to help their children make up for the gaps. But the most startling declines were in neighborhoods below and just above the poverty line, where the average household income for a family of four was $35,000 or less. The drop was 28% larger in schools in those communities than in the rest of the country.” 

Just 9% of Newark students met state math standards this spring: Chalkbeat reports that Newark students “suffered extensive learning loss last school year, according to spring 2021 test scores that show for the first time how profoundly the pandemic disrupted students’ academic progress. Just 9% of students in grades 2-8 met state expectations in math based on the results of end-of-year tests taken this spring, according to Newark Public Schools data Chalkbeat obtained through a public records request. Only 11% of students met expectations in reading. The grim results are only estimates of how students would have fared on New Jersey’s state exams had they not been canceled this spring. Also, the tests measure student performance against pre-pandemic benchmarks, which do not account for the extreme challenges Newark students faced after COVID shuttered school buildings and shattered any sense of normalcy for more than a year. Still, the standardized tests that thousands of Newark students took this spring offer the most detailed look yet at the academic damage wrought by the pandemic. While alarming, the test scores parallel national and statewide data that show the past year’s social and educational disruptions knocked most students off course, with Black, Hispanic, and low-income students weathering the biggest blow.” 

The pandemic has decimated the mental health of public health workers: Stateline reports: “Even as frontline health workers have been celebrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, many others working to track the virus, stem its spread, and help Americans avoid infection have found themselves under siege. Those public health workers have been vilified by a portion of the public and attacked by some political leaders and media figures. They have been fired or forced from office. They have been subjected to protests — some on their own front lawns — as well as curses, threats, and even, on at least one occasion, racist taunts. All that while working endless hours, sometimes in unfamiliar roles, to save as many people as possible from a virus that has so far killed more than 614,000 Americans. ‘A feeling of helplessness settles in when you promote all these practices, but part of the community feels antagonistic at your efforts or feels you have an ulterior motive,’ said Alison Krompf, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Mental Health. ‘It can cause you to question your sense of purpose.’ Now the costs of performing in that crucible have become clear. A large-scale survey conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last month found that more than half of people working in public health at the state, tribal, local, and territorial levels during the pandemic reported symptoms of at least one serious mental health condition. Those conditions are depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The results mirror those for frontline health care workers except in one notable regard, said Carol Rao, a CDC epidemiologist and a lead author of the report. ‘The prevalence of PTSD was 10 to 20% higher for public health workers than for frontline health workers and the general public,’ she said. ‘And that’s what stood out to us the most.’” 

Pandemic’s toll on seniors extended well beyond nursing homes: Kaiser Health News reports that as COVID-19 resurges in many parts of the country, “experts are extending our understanding of the pandemic’s toll on older adults — the age group hit hardest by the pandemic. New research offers unexpected insights. Older adults living in their own homes and apartments had a significantly heightened risk of dying from COVID-19 last year — more than previously understood, it shows. Though deaths in nursing homes received enormous attention, far more older adults who perished from COVID-19 lived outside of institutions. The research addresses essential questions: Which conditions appear to put seniors at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19? How many seniors in the community and in long-term care institutions might have died without the pandemic? And how many ‘excess deaths’ in the older population can be attributed to COVID-19?” 

The unvaccinated aren’t all just being difficult: Writing for the New York Times, Bryce Covert argues that the Biden administration should be working to make COVID-19 vaccines even more accessible rather than blaming those who haven’t yet been vaccinated. “Those who aren’t yet vaccinated are much more likely to be food insecure, have children at home, and earn little. About three-quarters of unvaccinated adults live in a household that makes less than $75,000 a year. They are nearly three times as likely as the vaccinated to have had insufficient food recently. Many of them have pressing concerns they can’t just put aside because they need to get a vaccination. Access is far more widespread than it was at the beginning of the year. Many cities now offer multiple venues for getting it without needing an appointment. But about 10% of the eligible population still lives more than a 15-minute drive from a vaccine distribution location. And even if there’s a site down the road, it usually requires taking time off work — not just to get the shot but also potentially to recover from the side effects — arranging transportation and figuring out child care. ‘Missing out on a few hours of work seems very easy to us, but in fact it could be the matter of having food for the family versus not,’ said Ann Lee, the chief executive of the nonprofit Community Organized Relief Effort. For these people, when they’re weighing whether to get a vaccination or potentially forgo some wages, ‘the wages are going to win out.’ Those who are unvaccinated are also likely to work in essential jobs like agriculture and manufacturing that don’t allow them to step away from work. They work long hours and may prioritize time with their families or communities when they finally get a break. People who have multiple jobs may find it impossible to schedule a shot in between all of their shifts.” 

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