Briefing for February 22-26, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for February 22-26, 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 February 26, 2021

An unprecedented number of students have disappeared during the pandemic; Schools are working harder than ever to find them: From the Washington Post: School districts across the country that closed buildings in mid-March in response to the coronavirus pandemic handled the transition to remote learning with varying levels of success. During the disruption, schools lost track of students. Many students who were present in the classroom in early March could not be found online. And others who showed up in the spring haven’t been seen since. Even before the pandemic, districts had to track down children who had stopped showing up to school or had failed to appear for a new school year. They have strong incentives to find them; school funding is often allocated on a per-pupil basis. Sometimes it turns out students have moved and enrolled in other districts. Other times they can’t be found and are removed from the rolls. But this year, students have disappeared from classes in unprecedented numbers, forcing districts to rethink their approach to those who stop showing up. Many districts, cognizant of the damage that lost school time can cause, have employed extraordinary efforts to track down students to ensure that they are safe and have devices to learn.  
COVID vaccine websites violate disability laws, create inequity for the blind: Many COVID vaccination registration and information websites at the federal, state and local levels violate disability rights laws, hindering the ability of blind people to sign up for a potentially lifesaving vaccine, a Kaiser Health News investigation has found. Across the country, people who use special software to make the web accessible have been unable to sign up for the vaccines or obtain vital information about COVID-19 because many government websites lack required accessibility features. At least 7.6 million people in the U.S. over age 16 have a visual disability. WebAIM, a nonprofit web accessibility organization, checked COVID vaccine websites gathered by KHN from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. On Jan. 27, it found accessibility issues on nearly all of 94 webpages, which included general vaccine information, lists of vaccine providers and registration forms. In at least seven states, blind residents said they were unable to register for the vaccine through their state or local governments without help. Phone alternatives, when available, have been beset with their own issues, such as long hold times and not being available at all hours like websites. 
Community health centers could be crucial to vaccine success: USA Today reports that community health centers “offer health care to underserved communities, and as people of color continue to suffer disproportionately from the virus, the centers could be essential in vaccinating hard-hit populations, experts say. Nationwide, community health centers serve about 30 million patients. Two-thirds of them live at or below poverty, and half are racial or ethnic minorities. Most are uninsured or on Medicaid. As part of its plan to improve the equitable distribution of vaccines, the Biden administration is targeting the community health centers as distribution hubs. Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, announced earlier this month that the administration would begin shipping doses to 250 centers, at least one in each state or territory.” 
Chicago takes aim at making sure Black and Latino communities are prioritized in the COVID vaccine rollout: Vox looks at the Protect Chicago Plus plan, an effort to target Chicago’s 15 high-need neighborhoods as designated by the city’s COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index, which rates neighborhoods according to COVID-19 cases and deaths; poverty level; and the percentage of residents with preexisting conditions, occupational risk factors, and who are uninsured. For eight weeks, the city is dedicating 2,000 vaccines per week to each of these neighborhoods, forgoing previous phase restrictions. As long as someone lives in the designated zip code, irrespective of their job, age, or health status, they can get vaccinated. “This is one of the boldest strategies out there,” Ali Khan, the executive medical director of Oak Street Health, a clinic administering vaccines in Belmont Cragin, told Vox. “We asked ourselves if we could change the game by working with communities, CBOs, partners, providers, and leaders to identify the silent majority that’s ready to receive the vaccine even though they might automatically be labeled ‘vaccine hesitant’ because they are Black and brown.” 

Five stories of vaccine mistrust from Americans of color: The PBS NewsHour looks more closely at the concerns some Americans have about the coronavirus vaccines. “Memories of historical atrocities run long and suspicions high when it comes to medical care. Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to say they do not trust their health care provider, rooted in both contemporary experiences — like that of Dr. Susan Moore, a Black physician who died of COVID-19 after posting on social media that her pain and calls for help were not taken seriously — and other painfully recent history. From 1932 to 1972, federal researchers examined the effects of syphilis on Black men when left untreated. None of the 623 participants in the United States Public Health Service Syphilis Study were told what was happening, and, in one of the worst examples of unethical medical research in modern U.S. history, researchers secured no one’s consent. They were told they had ‘bad blood,’ but researchers withheld actual treatment from them, even after penicillin was discovered as an effective, affordable and readily available therapy for the disease.” 
Jill Biden says health inequities have lasted ‘far too long’: During a visit to a cancer center Wednesday, first lady Jill Biden said health disparities have hurt communities of color “for far too long” and “it’s about time” the country got serious about ending those inequities. Jill Biden’s visit to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center in Richmond was her first public trip outside Washington since her husband’s inauguration last month. Biden praised the work of doctors and researchers at the Massey center, which has been nationally recognized for its work to study the socioeconomic and cultural factors that contribute to disparities in cancer outcomes. The center focuses on community engagement as part of a strategy to better reach underserved communities and to address health disparities, particularly in the Black community. Biden cited “Facts and Faith Fridays,” a weekly conference call started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic by Dr. Robert Winn, director of the Massey center, and Black clergy, to provide pastors and their congregations with key updates on pandemic-related issues, including personal protective equipment, social distancing, and rent and mortgage relief. 
Closing the hunger gap for African-Americans: Alliance to End Hunger Executive Director Eric Mitchell has these suggestions for how the anti-hunger community can have more of an impact on the lives of Black Americans suffering from the impact of the pandemic: 

  • “Break down silos: For decades, addressing racism has been seen as the purview of civil rights organizations, but anti-hunger groups have a role to play in achieving racial equity.” 
  • “Empower communities: Like other nonprofits, most anti-hunger organizations are built around a charitable paradigm that is traditionally focused on ‘color-blind’ solutions. This focus, while well-meaning, has only served to reinforce rather than eliminate racial disparities. 
  • “Promote racially equitable solutions: Systemic racism is enshrined and reinforced through legislation and policy.”  

BLM launches Survival Fund amid federal COVID relief wait: The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation is formally expanding a $3 million financial relief fund that it quietly launched earlier this month to help people struggling to make ends meet during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The foundation, which grew out of the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement nearly eight years ago, said on Thursday that it plans to make up to 3,000 microgrants of $1,000 each to people who it believes need it most. The BLM foundation has already begun asking recipients to apply for the Survival Fund grants as it builds out its philanthropic arm. 

Briefing for February 25, 2021

Indigenous people in cities feel ‘invisible’ as pandemic wears on: From the PBS NewsHour: “As COVID-19 has swept through Navajo lands, the tribal government enforces lockdowns and curfews, sometimes for weeks at a time. These measures are meant to stop the spread of the virus in a place where most of its residents have to drive long distances for their jobs, to haul water and to get groceries. The checkpoints set up by Navajo police also discouraged outside visitors to come into the area in an effort to contain COVID-19. But according to census data, more than three quarters of the country’s Indigenous people don’t live on designated tribal lands. More than half of all American Indians live in cities. According to the Indian Health Service, at least 6,766 Indigenous people in urban areas tested positive for COVID-19 from the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 to mid-February. The Phoenix metropolitan area has the third-highest American Indian population in the country, after New York City and Los Angeles. Indigenous people also make up about 4% of the COVID-19 cases in Phoenix metro. The data also show that cases and hospitalizations rates for Indigenous people are double the total population in Maricopa County which encompasses Phoenix, one of the largest counties in the country.” 

Children’s hospitals, pediatricians urge Biden to prioritize youth mental health: Children’s hospitals and pediatricians are calling on the Biden administration to prioritize children’s mental, emotional and behavioral health in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) launched an awareness campaign on Wednesday to ask the administration and lawmakers to provide more funds to programs to address the escalating crisis among children and youth. The group is seeking increased funding for existing mental and behavioral health programs through the Department of Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Health Resources and Services Administration. “Children’s hospitals’ emergency rooms have been inundated with children and youth in severe crisis,” Amy Knight, president of CHA, said in a press release. “With nowhere else for families to turn, these kids are great risk. We must do everything we can to help children and families access critical mental health services now.” Children’s hospital visits significantly increased this summer during the pandemic, with a nearly 20% increase in suicide attempts and over 40% increase in disruptive behavior disorders. 

For some teens, it’s been a year of anxiety and trips to the E.R.: From the New York Times: “Surveys and statistics show that for young people who are anxious by nature, or feeling emotionally fragile already, the pandemic and its isolation have pushed them to the brink. Rates of suicidal thinking and behavior are up by 25% or more from similar periods in 2019, according to a just-published analysis of surveys of young patients coming into the emergency room. For these teenagers, there aren’t many places to turn. They need help, but it’s hard to come up with a psychiatric diagnosis. They are trying to manage a surprise interruption in their lives, a vague loss. And without a diagnosis, reimbursement for therapy is hard to come by. And that is assuming parents know what kind of help is appropriate, and where to find it. Finally, when a crisis hits, many of these teenagers end up in the local emergency department — the one place desperate families so often go for help. Many E.R. departments across the country are now seeing a surge in such cases. Through most of 2020, the proportion of pediatric emergency admissions for mental problems, like panic and anxiety, was up by 24% for young children and 31% for adolescents compared to the previous year, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” 

Cancer patients are frustrated with states making them wait for coronavirus vaccines despite federal guidelines: In states where cancer patients are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, limited supply is keeping many waiting as health care workers, front-line essential workers, nursing home residents and staff, and other Americans with underlying health conditions fill up available appointments. The American Association for Cancer Research released a letter on Wednesday signed by 130 organizations, cancer centers and institutions to the Biden administration and state leaders to raise awareness about the importance of cancer patients and survivors receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. A December study published in JAMA Oncology found cancer patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were more likely to require hospitalization than people without cancer. More than 47% of cancer patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized versus 24% of COVID-19 patients without cancer. The study also showed about 15% of patients with cancer died from COVID-19 compared to 5% of non-cancer patients. 

Maryland residents with disabilities face vaccine hurdles despite priority status: Marylanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been prioritized to receive COVID-19 immunizations in the current phase of the state’s rollout, a major victory for the community of advocates, caregivers, educators and those they serve. But with a national vaccine supply shortage and a decentralized, online booking system, many Marylanders — especially older adults, people without computers and those lacking digital skills — have struggled to secure appointments. “As of now, many families are just like the rest of the population. They’re very frustrated,” said David Greenberg, president and CEO of The League for People with Disabilities in Baltimore. “They’ve been going on a year now living like this. It’s just not the same. You need that human touch.” 

Military families increasingly are turning to food banks: Members of the U.S. military are increasingly turning to food banks to feed their families. Some families said they couldn’t last a week without visiting the food pantries. The Department of Defense estimates the jobless rate for military spouses is 22%, while other estimates run as high as 35%. In San Diego, families using the food bank at the Armed Services YMCA surged 400% percent during the pandemic. Shannon Razsadin, president and executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network, told CBS News that the pandemic has “exacerbated” the issue for military families. “What many people don’t know is that military families move, on average, every two-and-a-half years. And every time families move, there’s a complete restart. That means looking for a new job, finding new childcare, getting set up with new schools, finding a new home,” Razsadin said. “And with COVID, families have continued to move. And when you move in a market where you maybe don’t have as many housing options or the employment situation isn’t what it used to be, it has really created additional problems for military families.”  

Pandemic underlines poverty’s enduring and harmful myths: The gulf between reality and the demeaning, divisive stereotypes about American poverty has never been more apparent than during the coronavirus pandemic, an event that has made clear that the vast majority of Americans need help during times of crisis. In a timely new book, Poorly Understood: What America Gets Wrong About Poverty, Mark Robert Rank, Lawrence M. Eppard and Heather E. Bullock examine the common myths about poverty and inequality and identify policies that might render them a relic of the past. Rank, the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, spoke with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity about the book. 

Child care workers, crucial to the pandemic recovery, make poverty-level wages in 40 states: Early childhood educators across the country earn a median wage of $11.65 an hour, according to the 2020 Early Childhood Workforce Index from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California at Berkeley. Black early educators on average are paid $0.78 less per hour than their white peers, CSCCE reported. Preschool teachers and directors of child care centers or preschools also earn low wages, while kindergarten teachers earned $32.80 in median hourly wages in 2019, CSCCE found, based on a survey of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. For a single adult with no children, median child care worker wages are considered livable in only 10 states, according to the report. The median gap between a child care wage and the livable wage threshold across all states is -$0.96 an hour, the researchers found.

Briefing for February 24, 2021

American Indians and Alaska Natives dying from COVID-19 at shocking rates: A new post from the Brookings Institution finds that “American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) are dying of COVID-19 at much higher rates and at younger ages than other groups. In some states, the COVID-19 death rate for AIAN people is similar to that of whites who are 20 to 30 years older. These disparities — together with both a recent and long history of racism and crimes against First Nations — make a strong case that federal, state, and local governments should make every effort to work with Tribal governments and the Indian Health Services (IHS) to ensure scarce vaccine resources are allocated to, and ultimately reach, American Indians and Alaska Natives of all ages as soon as possible.” 

Republicans unveil minimum wage proposals: Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen gives high marks to the new bill from Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Tom Cotton (R-AR). “The proposal links a gradual increase in the minimum wage with the mandatory use of E-Verify, the government database system that checks an employee’s ability to work legally in the United States. The minimum wage hike — to $10 an hour within four years after the pandemic ends for businesses with more than 20 employees — would raise pay for millions of low-skilled workers. Cotton and Romney would also index the new $10 minimum to inflation so that it would automatically rise every two years after it is installed. This ensures that a growing economy would lift all boats, not just the yachts cruising at the top.” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) released another proposal Wednesday, a three-year program that would increase worker wages in 2021, paid by taxpayers rather than employers. Those making below $16.50 per hour would receive a refundable tax credit worth 50% of the difference, paid out in quarterly installments. The $16.50 could increase over time, as it would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. The credit would only apply to 40 hours or less of weekly work and only American workers with valid Social Security numbers would be eligible, meaning non-U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants would be excluded. 

Young people struggle to keep friends close as pandemic pulls them apart: NPR reports that the already challenging transition for new college graduates “has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Many college graduates are struggling to find jobs in the worst economic recession in modern American history. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 46.7% of young people ages 16-24 were employed in July 2020, a decrease from 56.2% reported during the same time in 2019. The prolonging of the transition amid a tough economy and shrinking of social interactions has its emotional toll. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention found that 46% of surveyed young people ages 18 to 24 reported feeling symptoms of anxiety and stressor-related disorders due to the pandemic. Out of all age groups, young people reported the highest percentage. A report released by Making Caring Common, a Harvard Graduate School of Education Project, indicated that more than one in three Americans said they experienced ‘serious loneliness’ during the pandemic, but young adults are feeling it the most at 61%.” 

Meatpackers need more protection, including after the pandemic: Writing for Prism, immigration rights activist Andrea V. Duarte-Alonso describes the experience of meat packing workers and other low-income laborers during the pandemic: “During the pandemic, many organizers have repeatedly said the inequities in mental health care, child care, education, and in other areas are showing up even more vividly in low-income, brown, and Black communities. My mother may no longer braid my hair, but she continues to use her body for physical labor in her current work as a hotel housekeeper. She’s been out of the meatpacking industry for a long time, but I think about her, my family, and all of the community members who will bear a heavy physical and emotional toll currently and for years to come. For their sake, I ask those in local, state, and national leadership roles to create a space where they can listen to those who are on the floor of the plants, not just those in offices who speak English well, but to truly listen to those who are being directly impacted physically and emotionally, regardless of language and cultural barriers.”  

Vaccine inequality — No internet, no appointment: MLK 50: Justice Through Journalismlooks at the vaccine rollout by the Shelby County Health Department in Memphis, which gave priority to those with internet access, potentially putting low-income residents at a distinct disadvantage. “Anybody who has done anything in disparities in Memphis knows that computer access is a major issue,” said Carla Baker, a longtime nurse and chief operating officer for Common Table Health Alliance, a nonprofit health care collaborative serving Memphis and the region. “If you had 200 appointments, you should have set 50 aside for phone calls.” 

Vaccine access codes for hard-hit communities of color have been improperly used in other areas of Los Angeles: From the Los Angeles Times: “A California program intended to improve COVID-19 vaccine availability to people in hard-hit communities of color is being misused by outsiders who are grabbing appointments reserved for residents of underserved Black and Latino areas. The program to address inequities in vaccine distribution relies on special access codes that enable people to make appointments on the My Turn vaccine scheduling website. The codes are provided to community organizations to distribute to people in largely Black and Latino communities. But those codes have also been circulating, in group texts and messages, among the wealthier, work-from-home set in Los Angeles, The Times has learned. Many of those people are not yet eligible for the vaccine under state rules.” 

Californians with low incomes report high satisfaction with telehealth services: Telehealth visits, either by video or phone, have become integral to providing health care during the pandemic, and the response in California has been positive. A California Health Care Foundation statewide survey of almost 2,500 California residents (18 to 64 years old with an oversampling of respondents with low incomes), conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, found that 62% of people who needed care since the start of the pandemic had visited their provider via telehealth. Residents with low incomes and people of color were most likely to have used telehealth. Among survey respondents who needed care during the pandemic, 65% of those earning below 200% of the federal poverty level (about $25,000 a year for one person) reported using telehealth, as did three out of four people of color. 

Federal law prohibits employers from requiring vaccinations with COVID vaccines approved under emergency use authorization: STAT notes that as employers, schools and other organizations begin to grapple with whether to require COVID-19 vaccination, federal law requires that, at least until the vaccine is licensed, individuals must have the option to accept or decline to be vaccinated. Even though the FDA granted emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in December 2020, the clinical trials the FDA will rely upon to ultimately decide whether to license these vaccines are still underway and are designed to last for approximately twoyears to collect adequate data to establish if these vaccines are safe and effective enough for the FDA to license. 

Briefing for February 23, 2021

What happens when people stop going to the doctor? We’re about to find out: Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, president of Howard University and a professor of surgery at Howard University’s School of Medicine, writes for the New York Times: “When the pandemic began, health care resources were diverted from primary and preventive care operations to fight the coronavirus. Unfortunately, we are already seeing the measurable effects of skipped appointments: This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in the first six months of 2020, life expectancy in the United States fell on average by one year. The C.D.C. estimates that about 512,000 more people have died since last March than American mortality statistics would generally predict absent a pandemic. While that excess-deaths figure both includes and suggests an undercount of deaths from COVID-19, it is also a sign that more people are dying from other causes, and people of color are disproportionately affected. Last year, excess deaths increased 14.7% for white people, but 44.9% for Latino and 28.1% for Black populations, according to the C.D.C. Just as the pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color, this hidden crisis will target the same minority populations, which have higher rates of diseases like hypertension and diabetes, and less access to quality health care.” 

The jobs the pandemic may devastate: The latest assessment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of which jobs will grow over the next decade has alarming implications for jobs requiring less education — while also forecasting a boom for epidemiologists and other health-science jobs. The 10 occupations with the biggest increase in projected employment when the BLS factored in the impact of the pandemic are all in medical, health-science and technology fields. The 10 occupations with the largest declines include restaurant, hotel and transportation jobs. 

The CDC recommended states prioritize farmworkers for COVID vaccines; A few large agricultural states have not: Despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, a few states with large farmworker populations have not prioritized COVID-19 vaccinations for farmworkers. Because farmworkers risk COVID-19 exposure in the course of their jobs, the CDC proposed that they should be near the front of the vaccination line. But Texas and Florida, which have large farmworker populations, have not included farmworkers in their initial rollouts, according to state documents. Farmworker advocates said the people who pick and process the fruits and vegetables consumers rely on should become inoculated from the virus. “We believe that farmworkers should be a high priority for vaccine distribution because of their essential work and because of the high risk of exposure in the agricultural workplace,” said Alexis Guild, Director of Health Policy and Programs at Farmworker Justice. 

Urgency to ramp up vaccine production clashes with Biden’s equity focus: From Politico: “The race to vaccinate as many people as possible while more contagious coronavirus variants march across America is colliding with lagging efforts to steer shots to people of color and underserved communities bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Though the Biden administration has prioritized equitable vaccine distribution, putting that goal into practice is difficult. Local public health officials are under pressure to quickly distribute their limited supplies and reach high-risk groups first in line. So far, limited data continues to show that people in hard-hit minority communities are getting vaccinated at a much slower pace than people in wealthier white ones. ‘We could see the inequities get worse before they get better,’ said Shereef Elnahal, a former New Jersey health commissioner who heads University Hospital in Newark.” 

Non-English speakers struggle to get vaccines: More than two months after the first coronavirus vaccine shots were distributed in the USA, many states and local governments provide limited vaccine information in languages other than English. Language and cultural barriers have made it difficult for many people of color, immigrants and non-English speaking communities to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Experts said more targeted outreach — including door knocking, visits to front-line workers at their place of employment, streamlined registration sites and language translation services at vaccination sites — is needed to overcome misinformation and educate communities that long have been plagued by racial injustices in the USA.  

Countless homebound patients still wait for vaccines despite seniors’ priority: Opening another front in the nation’s response to the pandemic, medical centers and other health organizations have begun sending doctors and nurses to apartment buildings and private homes to vaccinate homebound seniors. These efforts and others like them recognize a compelling need: Between 2 million and 4.4 million older adults are homebound. Most are in their 80s and have multiple medical conditions, such as heart failure, cancer, and chronic lung disease, and many are cognitively impaired. They cannot leave their homes or can do so only with considerable difficulty. By virtue of their age and medical status, these seniors are at extremely high risk of becoming seriously ill and dying if they get COVID-19. Yet, unlike similarly frail nursing home patients, they haven’t been recognized as a priority group for vaccines, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recently offered guidance on serving them

Pandemic’s mental health toll falls heaviest on young adults: The pandemic has closed schools, offices, sports arenas and limited social interaction for millions of people — perhaps an even bigger struggle for young people more used to being active. In a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 63% of 18- to-24-year-olds reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, with 25% reporting increased substance use to deal with that stress and 25% saying they’d seriously considered suicide. “The mental health impact of the pandemic is much larger on younger adults,” said Dr. Shekhar Saxena of The Harvard School of Public Health and a professor for the practice of global mental health courts. “The figures that we have from the U.S. suggest that almost two-thirds of the young adults have some symptoms of anxiety or depression or other psychological problems.” 

Teachers are leaving school because of stress and many say they won’t return: American teachers are stressed, and more of them are leaving the profession because they’re not getting paid enough to put up with it — especially in a pandemic. “Different COVID-19 stressors affected pandemic teachers differently,” said Melissa Diliberti, lead author of a new report and an assistant policy researcher at RAND, in a statement. “Insufficient pay and childcare responsibilities drove out younger teachers under 40, while older teachers were more likely to say health conditions made them leave.” 

Kids need to play this summer, not catch up on school: Nicholas Tampio, a professor of political science at Fordham University, argues in the Washington Post that well-meaning congressional bills to fund widespread summer school for pandemic-plagued students are not the most effective way to help young people recover from the pandemic. “This summer, children need to do self-initiated activities that are rewarding for their own sake,” he writes. “This will create happier children now and, as research has shown, lead to improved physical, cognitive, social, emotional and creative outcomes later in life.” 

Briefing for February 22, 2021

Should Black Americans have lower age cutoffs to qualify for COVID vaccines? Writing in the Washington Post, Oni Blackstock, a primary care and HIV physician and founder and executive director of Health Justice, and Uché Blackstock, an emergency physician and founder and chief executive of Advancing Health Equity, argue that the health inequities of Black Americans mandate a lessening of the age requirements for the coronavirus vaccines. “As we have previously contended, Black Americans should be prioritized for the coronavirus vaccine given the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black communities. Removing or lowering age cutoffs for Black Americans could go a long way toward increasing access to one of the most impacted communities and accounting for structural racism’s toll on Black lives.” 

People of color are underrepresented in COVID vaccine trials, study finds: People of color have been vastly underrepresented in U.S.-based vaccine trials for the last decade, according to a new study released Friday by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Harvard University, Emory University and other institutions. The study, which examined data from 230 vaccine trials with nearly 220,000 participants, found that white people made up the majority, or 78%, of participants in trials conducted between June 2011 and June 2020. Black people, however, accounted for 11% of participants, Hispanics made up 12%, and American Indians/Alaska Natives represented 0.4%. The study, published in the JAMA Network Open, comes as the nation grapples with a COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately impacted people of color. Health care leaders are working to combat vaccine distrust among Black and brown people, saying the shot is the key to preventing further devastation in their communities. 

The epidemic behind the mask —COVID-related education inequities: Writing for The Hill, Christy Tirrell-Corbin, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Early Childhood Education and Intervention at the University of Maryland, Carlomagno Panlilio, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and faculty member of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State University, and J. Bart Klika, Ph.D., chief research officer with Prevent Child Abuse America, warn that reopening schools alone will not meet the needs of the children of the pandemic. “Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recently announced strategies for reopening schools during the ongoing pandemic,” they write. “Although hand-washing, physical distancing, mask-wearing and in-person schooling are important, these strategies alone will not ensure that children are healthy and learning. We also must consider their COVID-19-related experiences, particularly for children in low-resourced communities where infection and death rates have been higher, vaccination rates lower and inequities rampant. In order to tackle such complexities in children’s experiences, we simply cannot rely on teachers and schools to ‘go it alone.’ Instead, we must break out of our silos and harness community-wide resources that will address the needs of the ‘whole child,’ which include physical and mental health — and, for the children’s sake, we must act now.” 

To vaccinate veterans, health care workers must cross mountains, plains and tundra: From Kaiser Health News: “About 2.7 million veterans who use the VA health system are classified as ‘rural’ or ‘highly rural’ patients, residing in communities or on land with fewer services and less access to health care than those in densely populated towns and cities. An additional 2 million veterans live in remote areas who do not receive their health care from VA, according to the department. To ensure these rural vets have access to the COVID-19 vaccines, the VA is relying on a mix of tools, like charter and commercial aircraft and partnerships with civilian health organizations. The challenges of vaccinating veterans in rural areas — which the VA considers anything outside an urban population center — and ‘highly rural’ areas — defined as having fewer than 10% of the workforce commuting to an urban hub and with a population no greater than 2,500 — extend beyond geography, as more than 55% of them are 65 or older and at risk for serious cases of COVID-19 and just 65% are reachable via the internet.” 

How the New Orleans Resilience Corps helped the city fight the coronavirus: The idea of mobilizing Americans for vital, ground-level community-health work is gaining support. President Joe Biden has a plan to create a national corps of coronavirus contact tracers. A group of U.S. senators, led by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), introduced the Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act to create a New-Deal-style workforce. At the federal level, these corps are still ideas, but in some cities, they already exist and are saving lives right now. The New Orleans Resilience Corps, a nonprofit program, is already hiring and training local residents to help the city withstand COVID-19 and natural disasters. Last year, the corps’ members focused on coordinating with contact tracers, doing door-to-door canvassing and wellness checks, delivering food and other necessities, and connecting residents with city and state services

CVS to help at-risk Americans schedule vaccine appointments: CVS Health plans to contact Americans living in underserved communities to help them schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments amid signs that white people are getting the free vaccine at higher rates than Black Americans. The drugstore chain said Friday that it will call, email and text-message people living in what the federal government has deemed socially vulnerable areas to provide assistance and education in the vaccine process. CVS also said it will hold vaccine clinics in the most vulnerable communities it serves and send vaccination caravans into neighborhoods to make it easier for people to get their shots. With nearly 10,000 locations, including almost half located in communities ranked “high or very high” on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index, CVS is expected to play a significant role in the nationwide rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. The company has said its 90,000 clinicians can administer 25 million per month. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans live within five miles of a CVS.

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