Briefing for January 4-8, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for January 4-8, 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.

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Briefing for January 8, 2021

A third of U.S. families face a different kind of poverty: Before the pandemic, one-third of U.S. households with children were already “net worth poor,” lacking enough financial resources to sustain their families for three months at a poverty level, finds new research from Duke University. In 2019, 57% of Black families and 50% of Latino families with children were poor in terms of net worth. By comparison, the rate for white families was 24%. “These ‘net worth poor’ households have no assets to withstand a sudden economic loss, like we have seen with COVID-19,” said Christina Gibson-Davis, co-author of the study and professor of public policy and sociology at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy. “Their savings are virtually nil, and they have no financial cushion to provide the basics for their children.” The study is among the first to consider family poverty in terms of assets, not income. Using 1989-2019 data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, researchers analyzed net worth and income data from more than 19,000 U.S. households with children under age 18. 

The COVID-fueled hunger crisis could get worse in 2021: Concern is mounting over the rise of hunger, even with the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, in the U.S. and across the world. “The World Food Program, the branch of the United Nations responsible for delivering lifesaving food assistance, expects to need to serve 138 million people this year — more than ever in its 60-year history. The rise in hunger is ‘due to what I call the three Cs — conflict, COVID, and climate,’ said Steve Taravella, a WFP spokesman. ‘We don’t take the word famine loosely, but with famine looming in several countries at once, we’re facing a genuine crisis.'”

Health officials fear pandemic could bring spike in suicides among Native American youth: In a typical year, Native American youth die by suicide at nearly twice the rate of their white peers in the U.S. Mental health experts worry that the isolation and shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could make things worse. “It has put a really heavy spirit on them, being isolated and depressed and at home with nothing to do,” said Carrie Manning, a project coordinator at the Fort Peck Tribes’ Spotted Bull Recovery Resource Center. 

Illinois is first in the nation to extend health coverage to undocumented seniors: Amid a deadly virus outbreak that has disproportionately stricken Latino communities,Illinois recently became the first state to provide public health insurance to all low-income noncitizen seniors, even if they’re in the country illegally. Advocates for immigrants expect it will inspire other states to do the same, building on efforts to cover undocumented children and young adults. Currently, Democratic legislators in California are pushing to expand coverage to all low-income undocumented immigrants there. “The fact that we’re going to do this during the pandemic really shows our commitment to expansion and broadening health care access. It’s an amazing first step in the door,” said Graciela Guzmán, campaign director for Healthy Illinois, a group that advocates for universal coverage. 

People of color are punished more harshly for COVID-19 violations, data shows: Writing for The Guardian, leaders of the COVID-19 Policing Project outline the findings of a new study that “reviewed public information about enforcement over the past six months and found that Black, Indigenous and people of color were 2.5 times more likely to be policed and punished for violations of COVID-19 orders than white people. Black people specifically were 4.5 times more likely to be policed and punished for coronavirus orders than white people. Black women — who disproportionately work as healthcare and essential service workers, and are quite literally saving our lives — experienced the highest rates of racial disparity in enforcement of public health orders. According to our statistical analysis, Black women were five times more likely than white women to be policed and punished for violations of COVID-19 orders. Black men were 3.7 times more likely than white men to be policed and punished for such violations.” 

The best evidence of how to overcome COVID vaccine fears:
From Scientific American: “For the reluctant and distrustful, it will take targeted actions and communication strategies that speak to the specific concerns of each group to move them toward accepting the new vaccines. ‘The most effective messenger in the Black community won’t be the same one as among Republicans, obviously,’ says political scientist Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College, who studies misperceptions about health care and politics. ‘We need to meet each community where they are and understand the reasons for their mistrust.’ Even among the willing, it will take a concerted effort by public health officials to ensure that good intentions translate into action. Whether it is getting out to vote or showing up for a vaccination, one third to two thirds of people who say they will do something wind up flaking out, says Katy Milkman, co-director of the Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, where she researches ways to close this ‘intention-action gap.'” 

Briefing for January 7, 2021

Rural hospitals have a greater percentage of COVID-19 patients: The percentage of hospital patients who are being treated for COVID-19 has more than doubled in recent months. And throughout the fall surge in coronavirus cases, rural hospitals have consistently had a greater proportion of patients being treated for COVID-19 than urban hospitals have, a new study shows. Nationally, the percentage of rural hospital patients who have COVID-19 increased from about 10% during the first week of October to about 25% in late November and early December, the study showed. During the same period, the percentage of urban hospital patients infected with the coronavirus grew from about 6% to 20%. The trend is primarily affecting hospitals in the Midwest and South, not hospitals in the Northeast or West. Midwestern states like Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa saw some of the highest rates of new infections during October and November. The study is based on data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On December 15, HHS published weekly data on each U.S. hospital tracking key indicators for how the facilities were coping with COVID-19 care.  
Equitable access to coronavirus vaccine looms as next challenge amid slow rollout: As state and local officials work to speed up the administration of coronavirus vaccines to the first segments of the population eligible to receive them, local leaders are already looking ahead to when the shots become available to the general population. For some, among the list of concerns about how best to get shots into arms is the fear that communities that lack access to pharmacy services will be left out, given the role that retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreen are expected to play in administering the vaccines. “I understand there is benefit for us to treat the vaccine like we do the flu shot — we want it to be easy and accessible — but I also know when we had testing and it came out and the corporations were doing it, poorer places like Dayton didn’t get the tests, and that’s not fair,” Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, told CBS News. “If that happens again, that is wrong, and people like me are going to say it’s wrong because it’s going to hold up our economy.” 

Four things the Biden/Harris administration can do for students’ wellbeing: Mamiko Vuillemin, Senior Manager of Policy and Advocacy at FoodCorps, and Timothy Barchak, Senior Policy Analyst at the National Education Association, with four policy suggestions for the incoming administration for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity: 

  • Make school meals free for all students, permanently 
  • Protect access to healthy food for kids and families 
  • Resource school nutrition departments and leaders 
  • Ensure community representation in political appointees 

Children’s hospitals grapple with waves of mental illness: Efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States have led to drastic changes in the way children and teens learn, play and socialize. Tens of millions of students are attending school through some form of distance learning. Many extracurricular activities have been canceled. Playgrounds, zoos and other recreational spaces have closed. Many kids have struggled to cope and the toll is becoming evident. Government figures show the proportion of children who arrived in emergency departments with mental health issues increased 24% from mid-March through mid-October, compared with the same period in 2019. Among preteens and adolescents, it rose by 31%. Anecdotally, some hospitals said they are seeing more cases of severe depression and suicidal thoughts among children, particularly attempts to overdose. The increased demand for intensive mental health care that has accompanied the pandemic has worsened issues that have long plagued the system. In some hospitals, the number of children unable to immediately get a bed in the psychiatric unit rose. Others reduced the number of beds or closed psychiatric units altogether to reduce the spread of COVID-19. “It’s only a matter of time before a tsunami sort of reaches the shore of our service system, and it’s going to be overwhelmed with the mental health needs of kids,” said Jason Williams, a psychologist and director of operations of the Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado. 

A Florida reporter becomes a one-woman help desk for anxious seniors: The Poynter Institute profiles CD Davidson-Hiers, a reporter at the Tallahassee Democrat who is not only reporting on the coronavirus pandemic in her community, but also making herself available to guide area seniors through the bureaucratic maze surrounding vaccination. “While Davidson-Hiers has covered statewide COVID-19 numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, she picked up vaccine rollout coverage while working over the holiday week. Last week, that included a piece about the 57 calls she got from Leon County residents 65 and older searching for information about the COVID-19 vaccine.” 

Briefing for January 6, 2021

For most workers, the latest vaccines may not mean protection yet: From the Urban Institute: “In mid-December, health care workers across the United States began to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. These workers have faced constant exposure to COVID-19 as they’ve struggled to provide care amid the pandemic, making them the top priority for receiving the vaccine. With vaccine production still underway, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has identified who it considers the next priority: adults ages 75 and older and a third of the essential workforce that faces greater risk of contracting COVID-19, including first responders and workers involved in education, manufacturing, corrections, public transit, grocery sales, food and agriculture, and the U.S. Postal Service. The 57 million essential workers in other industries and workers in nonessential industries, many of whom work in close proximity to others, will not receive vaccines until production increases.” 

U.S. risks years of increased mortality due to economic fallout from COVID-19: The U.S. could see an elevated death rate for more than a decade as the economic fallout from the coronavirus persists, underscoring the long-term health impact of the deep recession. The nation’s mortality rate is forecast to increase 3% while life expectancy will drop 0.5% over the next 15 years, representing 890,000 more American deaths, according to a working paper from researchers at Duke, Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities. Over a 20-year period, that amounts to 1.37 million additional deaths. That will disproportionately hit Black Americans and women in the near term, though may also carry long-term consequences for white men. For every 100,000 citizens, an additional 33 African Americans and 25 white people could die as a direct result of the economic impacts stemming from COVID-19, the data show. The new data highlight the recession’s reach, with long-lasting effects, even after a vaccine is widely available and short-term aid from the federal government supports people’s incomes. Recessions are closely tied to health and mortality, with higher unemployment worsening outcomes for Americans. 

Pandemic ravages health workers of color: COVID-19 has taken an outsize toll on Black and Hispanic Americans. And those disparities extend to the medical workers who have intubated them, cleaned their bedsheets and held their hands in their final days, a Kaiser Health News/Guardian investigation has found. People of color account for about 65% of fatalities in cases in which there is race and ethnicity data. One recent study found health care workers of color were more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to test positive for the virus. They were more likely to treat patients diagnosed with COVID, more likely to work in nursing homes — major coronavirus hotbeds — and more likely to cite an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment, according to the report. In a national sample of 100 cases gathered by KHN/The Guardian in which a health care worker expressed concerns over insufficient PPE before they died of COVID, three-quarters of the victims were identified as Black, Hispanic, Native American or Asian. 

One-third of rural counties lack a pharmacy listed in the coronavirus vaccine plan: From the Rural Blog at the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues: “Almost one-third of rural counties don’t have a pharmacy partnered with a chain or network that’s participating in the federal government’s coronavirus vaccination program, according to a new study. ‘The study from the RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy and Analysis found that 750 of the 1,962 nonmetropolitan counties in the study do not have a pharmacy that is listed in the federal Health and Human Services vaccine distribution partnerships,’ Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder. ‘The combined population of those rural counties is about 5.6 million, according to the study, or about 13% of the rural population.’ HHS said in November the vaccine will be distributed through chains such as Rite Aid, Walgreens, Kroger, Walmart, and independent pharmacy networks such as Good Neighbor Pharmacy, Marema reports. Such locations make up 60% of the pharmacies nationwide. An HHS announcement said other regional chains and independent pharmacies could be added to increase access to underserved areas. However, even if all pharmacies that could provide vaccines were included in the plan, 326 counties still wouldn’t be able to distribute the vaccine that way, Marema reports. And 110 rural counties have no pharmacy at all.”  

White House announces $1.5 billion in new funding for Farmers to Families Food Box program: The U.S. government is pumping $1.5 billion into the Farmers to Families Food Box program to help supply food lines, which were running low on food or had shut down completely in early December, through May. The $4.5 billion program, which launched amid great fanfare in the spring with the backing of President Trump’s daughter Ivanka, started to run out of money in early December, just ahead of the holidays. Soaring demand from hungry families and a funding cutoff by the Trump administration led to the cancellation of weekly food drives across the country, leaving tens of thousands without a critical supply of food just before the holidays. 

How community leaders in New Hampshire are building confidence in vaccines: From WBUR: “It’s a Saturday evening, the day after Christmas, and public health advocates Nia Smart and Marie-Elizabeth Ramas are getting ready to broadcast live on Facebook from their homes. They’re hoping people will sit down in front of their laptops and engage in a pretty atypical holiday conversation — about vaccines. The event, titled ‘Word on the Street,’ is a segment from a new grassroots project called The Lighthouse NH. Its goal is to get more reliable public health information to communities of color in the state by meeting them where they are: on social media.”  

Briefing for January 5, 2021

Who won’t be getting a second $600 stimulus check? The second round of federal stimulus checks are now hitting bank accounts following President Donald Trump’s signing of the $900 billion stimulus bill at year’s end. Last-minute passage of the relief legislation will offer a modest lift to the 60% of Americans who have suffered financial woes due to the coronavirus pandemic, yet millions may be disappointed to discover they’re among the groups who don’t qualify for the payment. In crafting the latest stimulus bill, lawmakers have sought to rectify several issues that restricted payment of the first round of checks last year. For instance, checks will be distributed to “mixed-status” immigrant families — families where American citizens are married to immigrants without Green Cards — a group that was blocked from receiving the checks earlier this year. Children under 17 years old will also receive the same $600 payment as adults, compared with $500 in the first round. However, the income limits in the most recent stimulus package are slightly different from those stipulated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which will cut off more middle-class families from receiving aid. And there are a few groups who were overlooked in the first round of checks who will also miss out on a second check. Chief among them: Child dependents who are 17 years old and adults who are claimed as dependents on another person’s tax return, as is typical with college students.  
The vast majority of nursing homes remain unvaccinated: Only about 14% of the roughly 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed to nursing home residents and staff have been administered, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The slower-than-ideal rollout illustrates the complexity of vaccinating what should be one of the easiest populations to reach — and one that remains extremely vulnerable to the virus. 
More than 2,900 health care workers died last year — and the government hardly kept track: More than 2,900 U.S. health care workers have died in the COVID-19 pandemic since March, a far higher number than that reported by the government, according to a new analysis by Kaiser Health News and The Guardian. Fatalities from the coronavirus have skewed young, with the majority of victims under age 60 in the cases for which there is age data. People of color have been disproportionately affected, accounting for about 65% of deaths in cases in which there is race and ethnicity data. After conducting interviews with relatives and friends of around 300 victims, KHN and The Guardian learned that one-third of the fatalities involved concerns over inadequate personal protective equipment. Many of the deaths — about 680 — occurred in New York and New Jersey, which were hit hard early in the pandemic. Significant numbers also died in Southern and Western states in the ensuing months. The findings are part of “Lost on the Frontline,” a nine-month data and investigative project by KHN and The Guardian to track every health care worker who dies of COVID-19. 
‘Relapsing left and right’ — the struggle for recovery during a pandemic: From The New York Times: “Addiction is often referred to as a disease of isolation, and overcoming that challenge has only become more difficult during a pandemic that has forced people indoors — in some cases to live lonely lives, with drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the stress. Several studies have shown that binge drinking has increased during the pandemic, and a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited a “concerning acceleration” of opioid-related overdoses last year. At the same time, many treatment centers have closed down or limited in-person visits. 
Communities of color without pharmacies in walking distance could face significant obstacles accessing vaccines: People in many at-risk communities across the U.S. are worried that a dearth of accessible pharmacies may limit their access to COVID-19 vaccines once they’re available for the general public. Rochelle Sykes, who lives on the west side of Chicago where there are no pharmacies within walking distance, told CNN she’s concerned that some of the most vulnerable people may be overlooked. The fact that many of her neighbors have preexisting medical conditions and lack reliable transportation makes the situation particularly dire. “If they’re going to roll out a vaccine and they’re going to roll it out to grocery stores and pharmacies, I see a problem,” Sykes said. “Is it going to be free? That’s one question. And how are they (residents) going to get there to get it?” 
Why getting vaccines to rural communities is harder than it looks: The enormous job of vaccinating the nation is underway, but for rural Americans, getting a COVID-19 vaccine becomes harder the farther they are from urban centers. The current vaccines’ cold storage requirements and shipping rules mean many rural hospitals can’t serve as vaccination distribution hubs. That can leave rural residents — about 20% of the U.S. population in all — traveling long distances, if they’re able to travel at all. Getting the word to rural residents about when they can be vaccinated isn’t easy either, and the extraordinary amount of misinformation downplaying the risk of the coronavirus this past year has had an impact on rural residents’ willingness to get the vaccine
Virtual learning poses daunting challenges for special-needs students: The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted education for every student in Michigan this year as K-12 schools have transitioned in and out of remote learning since March in response to the pandemic. While educators have recognized that all students struggle with remote learning, there has been one group of students for whom they say online learning has proven to be virtually impossible — students with special needs. At school, special needs students rely on personal, hands-on attention from trained specialists. The tools that other children are using for remote learning such as Zoom often aren’t accessible. 

Briefing for January 4, 2021

How COVID-19 hollowed out a generation of Black men: An exhaustive investigation by ProPublica into the devastating loss during the pandemic of young Black men, who are irreplaceable pillars of their communities: “While COVID-19 has killed 1 out of every 800 African Americans, a toll that overwhelms the imagination, even more stunning is the deadly efficiency with which it has targeted young Black men like the Rev. Dr. Kejuane Artez Bates (a 36-year-old pastor and school resource officer in Vidalia, La). One study using data through July found that Black people ages 35 to 44 were dying at nine times the rate of white people the same age, though the gap slightly narrowed later in the year. And in an analysis for ProPublica this summer using the only reliable data at the time accounting for age, race and gender, from Michigan and Georgia, Harvard researcher Tamara Rushovich found that the disparity was greatest in Black men. It was a phenomenon Enrique Neblett Jr. noticed when he kept seeing online memorials for men his age. ‘I’ll be 45 this year,’ said the University of Michigan professor, who studies racism and health. ‘I wasn’t seeing 60- and 70-year-old men. We absolutely need to be asking, what is going on here?’”

Minority-owned firms waited months for loans: Thousands of minority-owned small businesses were at the end of the line in the government’s coronavirus relief program as many struggled to find banks that would accept their applications or were disadvantaged by the terms of the program. Data from the Paycheck Protection Program released Dec. 1 and analyzed by The Associated Press show that many minority owners desperate for a relief loan didn’t receive one until the PPP’s last few weeks, while many more white business owners were able to get loans earlier in the program. The program, which began Apr. 3 and ended Aug. 8 and handed out 5.2 million loans worth $525 billion, helped many businesses stay on their feet during a period when government measures to control the coronavirus forced many to shut down or operate at a diminished capacity. But it struggled to meet its promise of aiding communities that historically haven’t gotten the help they needed. 

In parts of Cleveland, residents say they are “losing our grip”: A look by Campbell Robertson of the New York Times at “the feeling of growing desperation in neighborhoods like some on Cleveland’s east side — communities that had already been struggling before the pandemic. These days people who have long lived and worked in these neighborhoods talk of a steady unraveling.” 

When teachers brought free lunch to students during the pandemic, they saw the reality of poverty: From USA Today: “Statistics about poverty and hunger in rural America have been available for years, and many rural schools have taken steps to combat hunger with government and locally run programs. But some teachers say those statistics have taken on new meaning since the pandemic began. In some rural school districts where teachers and administrators volunteered to deliver food to needy families amid the coronavirus outbreak, some educators say they encountered poverty firsthand for the first time, gaining new insight into the everyday challenges and academic barriers facing their students. ‘It’s the first thing that most superintendents at small rural districts wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and think about: How am I going to get these kids fed today?’ said David Ardrey, executive director of the Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools.” 

States are shutting down prisons as guards are crippled by COVID-19: States and counties are finding it hard to keep jails and prisons open as the virus ravages both prisoners and staff members. But transferring inmates can spur new outbreaks. From California to Missouri to Pennsylvania, state and local officials say that so many guards have fallen ill with the virus and are unable to work that abruptly closing some correctional facilities is the only way to maintain community security and prisoner safety. 

New York halted evictions. But what happens when the ban is lifted? When New York State lawmakers approved emergency legislation last week to ban evictions for at least two months, they were seeking to prevent hundreds of thousands of people from being forced from their homes during the winter, with the pandemic still raging. But they also feared something more perilous: a broad ripping at the fabric of society. Families becoming homeless after being evicted, overwhelming shelters. Children haphazardly transferring schools and falling far behind. Lines at food pantries growing. People ending up in overcrowded housing, increasing their chances of developing chronic disease. 

Roughly half of college students say COVID-19 will likely impact their ability to graduate: A survey of 3,941 students pursuing a bachelor’s and 2,064 students pursuing an associate degree by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation found that roughly half of students think it is likely that COVID-19 will negatively impact their ability to complete their program. Black and Hispanic students were more likely than white students to say the pandemic would affect their ability to graduate. Approximately 56% of Black and Hispanic students enrolled in bachelor’s programs and 60% of those enrolled in associate programs feared the pandemic could hold them back from graduating. 

Why nursing homes failed so badly during the pandemic: In an essay for the New York Times, E. Tammy Kim writes: “The first coronavirus outbreak in the United States occurred in a nursing home near Seattle, in late February. Since then, the country has endlessly revised its hot spot map. Yet the situation in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities has only gotten worse: More than 120,000 workers and residents have died, and residents are now dying at three times the rate they did in July. Long-term care continues to be understaffed, poorly regulated and vulnerable to predation by for-profit conglomerates and private-equity firms. The nursing aides who provide the bulk of bedside assistance still earn poverty wages, and lockdown policies have forced patients into dangerous solitude.” 

Kentucky’s poorest counties voted for Mitch McConnell: During last week’s Senate debate on pandemic relief, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) caustically pointed out that 10 of the nation’s 25 poorest counties are in Kentucky, the home state of the Senate majority leader. “So maybe my colleague, the majority leader, might want to get on the phone and start talking to working families in Kentucky and find out how they feel about the need for immediate help in terms of a $2,000 check for adults,” Sanders said. But as Ben Tobin of the Louisville Courier-Journal points out, each of those counties voted overwhelmingly for McConnell in the November election. McConnell’s lowest percentage of the vote in the counties Sanders referenced was 66%.

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