Briefing for March 8-12, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for March 8-12, 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 March 12, 2021

Biden launches a second ‘War on Poverty’: Dylan Matthews of Vox puts the anti-poverty impact of the American Rescue Act into perspective: “Fifty-seven years ago, a Democratic president who had a reputation as a moderate — and who had been a senator and vice president before reaching the highest office in the land — announced his administration would be waging ‘unconditional war on poverty in America.’ The legislation that grew out of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration had no marquee program. Instead, the war on poverty was a collection of new initiatives that have stood the test of time: Medicare; Medicaid; food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); aid for women, infants, and children (WIC); school breakfasts; Pell Grants; Head Start; and Section 8 housing vouchers, to name a few. It was a landmark passel of legislation that reshaped American life in the decades that followed. With Congress’s passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, another Democratic president with a reputation as a moderate (and who came through the Senate and the vice presidency) is putting his stamp on American policy. The COVID19 relief bill, which passed the US House on Wednesday afternoon and was signed into law by President Biden on Thursday, is the most far-reaching anti-poverty legislation in more than 50 years.” 

Native American tribes lead the way on vaccinations: Axios reports: Native American tribes are pulling off many of the most successful coronavirus vaccination campaigns in the U.S., bucking stereotypes about tribal governments. Despite severe technological barriers, some tribes are vaccinating their members so efficiently, and at such high rates, that they’ve been able to branch out and offer coronavirus vaccines to people outside of their tribes. Native Americans are one of the most at-risk groups for contracting and dying from the coronavirus. But tribal nations have rallied to get members vaccinated and helped nearby communities while major cities have struggled with rollouts. Tribes, which are sovereign nations that can set their own eligibility criteria, immediately got doses and launched vigorous campaigns on vaccines. 

  • The White Earth Nation in Minnesota was so successful in early vaccinations that it immediately began vaccinating non-tribal members, Minnesota Public Radio reports.  
  • The Ute Mountain Tribe in Colorado last week said after it has vaccinated 1,900 of its tribal members and staff it will offer 2,000 doses to the general public.  
  • Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, the tribe of Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland, also started offering doses to nearby residents after tribal members received theirs. Several tribes in Oklahoma have, too. 
  • An AP analysis of federal data showed Native Americans were getting vaccinated at a rate higher than all but five states by February’s end. 

Alabama vaccine disparities mirror the rest of the country: NPR interviewed Jefferson County (Ala.) Commissioner Sheila Tyson, who says that in Birmingham, Ala., Alabama Regional Medical Services — a health clinic that primarily serves a lower-income, Black neighborhood — has not received a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine,and news reports say it will have to wait until March 13 for its first shipment. Meanwhile, the first doses in the state went to nearby Mountain Brook, an affluent white suburb of Birmingham, Tyson said, and the community continues to have ample supply of vaccines. What’s happening in Alabama’s vaccine rollout is playing out across the country and is another way racial disparities have surfaced during a pandemic that has been killing people of color at disproportionately high rates. “Black people are still not getting the same access,” Tyson says in an interview on All Things Considered. Tyson says state officials have told her that they are not distributing vaccines to majority-Black neighborhoods because they expect people there may be hesitant to take them. “They had stuck in their head that Black and brown communities will actually turn the vaccine down without even doing a survey, without even having a plan, without having a person representing those communities at the table with the planning session,” she says. 

One in five healthcare workers experience depression, anxiety during pandemic: Staggering numbers of health care workers — more than one in five — have experienced anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder during the pandemic, new research has revealed. Health care workers have been working for long hours under strenuous conditions. Because of this, Nathaniel Scherer, co-lead author of the systematic review and meta-analysis published Wednesday in PLOS One, said he was not surprised by the numbers. “Previous evidence has shown that these experiences can lead to stress, fatigue and burnout, which can increase the risk of common mental disorders,” said Scherer, a research assistant at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Researchers analyzed 65 studies that together included over 97,000 people for the global study. Their analysis broke down the numbers by region and found health care workers in the Middle East had the highest rates of anxiety and depression, with 28.9% and 34.6% experiencing those mental health challenges, respectively. 

The invisible COVID victims among the ranks of homeless Americans: Usha Lee McFarling of STAT looks at the difficulties of assessing the death rate during the pandemic for the homeless. “They are the invisible victims of COVID-19, marginalized not just in life, but also in death. Despite the extraordinarily detailed statistics that parse the ages, races, and comorbidities of the nation’s more than 500,000 COVID deaths, no one seems to have any idea how many homeless people have died. One attempt to track all U.S. COVID-19 homeless deaths through official records turned up just 373. “It’s absolutely a vast undercount,” said Katherine Cavanaugh, a consumer advocate with the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. “Housing status is not on any major COVID dashboard.” 

Briefing for March 11, 2021

CDC under scrutiny after struggling to report COVID race, ethnicity data: From Politico: “The Department of Health and Human Services’ watchdog is examining how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can improve the accuracy of its data on COVID-19’s toll by race and ethnicity, according to two senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the investigation. The HHS inspector general has interviewed several officials who deal with COVID-19 data over the past week and plans to continue meeting with the agency over the coming days, those sources said. Those initial conversations suggest the inspector general is focused on finding ways to get a more complete picture, particularly around vaccinations, and how the agency can more closely coordinate with states on the collection of the data, officials said. The CDC has struggled to compile useful breakdowns on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people of various races and ethnicities because the agency relies almost entirely on the state and local data collection systems. Data from those systems are often incomplete because not everyone who receives a COVID-19 vaccine or test, for example, will identify their race or ethnicity when they sign up.” 

COVID relief bill will cut 2021 poverty rate by a third: A new study from the Urban Institute reports: “Four key elements of the American Rescue Plan Act would reduce the projected poverty rate for 2021 by more than one-third. In an earlier analysis, we projected that without this legislation, the 2021 annual poverty rate would be 13.7%.  We project that key elements of the American Rescue Plan would reduce that annual poverty rate to 8.7%. The policies would reduce poverty by more than half for children and for people in households experiencing job loss. Poverty would fall about 42% for Black, non-Hispanic people, 39% for Hispanic people, and 34% for white, non-Hispanic people, reducing the disparities in poverty rates for Black, non-Hispanic people and Hispanic people relative to white, non-Hispanic people. Our estimates include the effects of the American Rescue Plan Act’s (1) extension of pandemic-related unemployment insurance benefits, (2) extension of higher Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, (3) $1,400 recovery rebate payments, and (4) advance portion of the increased child tax credit. Our projections, developed using the Urban Institute’s Analysis of Transfers, Taxes, and Income Security (ATTIS) model, assess the impacts of these provisions on families’ economic well-being using the Supplemental Poverty Measure.” 

Vaccine hesitancy is not the issue for people of color — It’s vaccine access: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), National Urban League President Marc Morial and Loyola Marymount University professor Cheryl Grills write for the Washington Post: “In nearly every jurisdiction where racial and ethnic data are being reported, white Americans are being vaccinated at higher rates. Commentators have been quick to blame vaccine hesitancy in Black and Latino communities as driving the vaccination gap. In reality, communities of color are lagging behind because they can’t access the vaccine, not because they don’t want it. New polling from Cornell Belcher, the National Urban League and the Alliance of National Psychological Associations for Racial and Ethnic Equity makes this clear. The data show that huge majorities of all groups surveyed — 67% of Black people, 71% of Latinos, 81% of Filipino-Americans, 90% of Vietnamese-Americans and 66% of Native Hawaiians — are willing to take the vaccine. They are also ‘very concerned’ about their health and the health of their immediate families.” 

Building back better —A post-pandemic blueprint for state and local leaders: Few groups have felt the pain and pressures and demands of the past year more than America’s state and local leaders, who have not only seen the sad human toll of the pandemic up close, but also have been crucial in finding solutions. In that spirit, the NewDeal Forum convened a Renewing America Task Force comprised of state and local leaders to try to offer short-term and long-term policies on a variety of issues impacted by COVID-19. The task force has been offering policy suggestions throughout the past year and recently compiled all of them, plus some additional material, in a new report, Policy Guidelines & Proposals to Build Back Better. Task Force co-chair Lee Harris, the mayor of Shelby County, Tenn., and NewDeal CEO Debbie Cox Bultan spoke with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity about the report. 

Two-year programs offering hands-on learning have struggled to keep students: Many students in hands-on programs opted to take a break from their education — or didn’t pursue it at all last fall. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed public two-year colleges enrolled 544,200 fewer students in fall 2020 — a 10% decrease from the previous year. The drop was even more acute among first-time students, at 21%. Some programs fared better than others in terms of enrollment, but many of those most impacted were in hands-on disciplines. Visual and performing arts, law enforcement, firefighting, engineering technologies, mechanic and repair technologies, and communication technologies were among the undergraduate majors with the biggest drops at two-year colleges, according to the Clearinghouse. Enrollment in culinary services, precision production and the physical sciences all decreased by more than 17%. When the pandemic forced classes online, some career and technical (CTE) programs replaced in-person training with virtual simulations. Others offered in-person labs with fewer students and stringent coronavirus safety protocols. But many colleges had to suspend or significantly modify programs that could not be easily adapted. 

COVID-19 devastated many communities, but not Cherokee Nation: A New York Times video examines “how the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has kept its COVID death rate lower than most American communities’ — even though Native Americans are almost twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white people are. In this video, we uncover the secret to the Cherokees’ success. But it’s not exactly rocket science. It’s really just a smart, slow but steady commitment to universal health care. Oh, and a long history of having to be self-reliant when the U.S. government fails to step up and provide support.” 

USDA continues free meals for kids through the summer: Children nationwide will be able to receive free meals when schools break for the summer after the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended several waivers on Tuesday because of the coronavirus pandemic. The department said as many as 12 million children are currently living in households where they may not have enough to eat, meaning they may rely on meals from school. “We will do everything we can to make sure children get access to healthy, nutritious meals regardless of their families’ financial circumstances,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Our child nutrition professionals are doing a heroic job ensuring kids across the country have proper nutrition throughout this public health emergency, often times with limited resources.” 

One year in, broadband and telehealth are two big winners emerging from the pandemic: Roll Call reports: “Of all the everyday priorities that changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, few became more crucial than the need to stay connected — to the internet, to teachers and to doctors. Efforts to expand broadband internet access, and especially systems that could connect individuals to their health care providers, have long benefited from bipartisan support, even if Republicans and Democrats disagree over exactly how to best achieve those expansions. Broadband and telehealth were often discussed but rarely prioritized, the rare instance in which both parties agree on something, only to have it overshadowed by unrelated disagreements. Not so once the pandemic hit. Suddenly, expanding broadband and telehealth became key priorities for both parties as connectivity became what Jamie Susskind, vice president of policy and regulatory affairs at the Consumer Technology Association, calls ‘universal primary issues of importance.’ ‘With the shift to working at home and kids learning at home, a brighter light was shone on some of the issues that already existed,’ Susskind told CQ Roll Call.” 

Wyoming edges closer to Medicaid expansion: Buried in President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill is a provision intended to entice 12 holdout states to extend health coverage to more low-income adults by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Although Congress has not yet passed the legislation, Biden’s strategy appears to be working. A key Wyoming Senate committee this week approved a measure that would extend Medicaid benefits to all poor adults — not just older adults, those with disabilities and pregnant women. The bill now moves to the Wyoming Senate floor. If it passes, the law would add about 24,000 Wyoming residents to the Medicaid rolls, according to estimates released by the state’s Department of Health last month. The Wyoming bill passed the all-Republican Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee by a vote of 3-2, according to the Casper Star Tribune

Briefing for March 10, 2021

Many in the U.S. still face COVID financial loss: Roughly four in 10 Americans say they’re still feeling the financial impact of the loss of a job or income within their household as the economic recovery remains uneven one year into the coronavirus pandemic. A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research provides further evidence that the pandemic has been devastating for some Americans, while leaving others virtually unscathed or even in better shape, at least when it comes to their finances. The outcome often depended on the type of job a person had and their income level before the pandemic. The pandemic has particularly hurt Black and Latino households, as well as younger Americans, some of whom are now going through the second major economic crisis of their adult lives. 

Without a pandemic safety net, immigrants living in the U.S. illegally fall through the cracks: The nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission are particularly vulnerable to the economic fallout wrought by the pandemic and have no direct access to the billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief over the past year. An estimated four in five of them work essential jobs that put them at high risk to catch the COVID virus. They are also more likely to suffer the economic consequences, even with protections in place — such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium, extended through March — because they fear that reaching out for help or reporting landlords could lead to deportation or detention. Even though the COVID vaccines are available to everyone no matter their citizenship, a distrust of government and law enforcement in the immigrant community and a lack of culturally competent vaccination information have made some undocumented immigrants reluctant to come forward early in the vaccination rollout. Even if President Joe Biden makes good on his pledge of equitable access to a vaccine, unauthorized U.S. residents continue to have no direct access to billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief. Advocacy groups have argued for “inclusive” aid packages that provide direct aid to as many immigrants as possible no matter citizenship status, and while a few states set up aid for the undocumented, it’s not nearly enough, Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told Kaiser Health News. 

Older African-Americans are particularly wary of COVID vaccines: The New York Times uses Baton Rouge, La., as an example of a community where distrust of medical institutions is widening the racial gap among vaccine recipients. The Times reports: “The racial gap in vaccination rates is no less stark in Louisiana, where African-Americans make up 32% of the population but just 23% of those who have been vaccinated. Part of the problem is access. In Baton Rouge, the majority of mass vaccination sites are in white areas of the city, creating logistical challenges for older and poorer residents in Black neighborhoods like Mid-City who often lack access to transportation. Older residents have also been thwarted by online appointment systems that can be daunting for those without computers, smartphones or speedy internet connections. But much of the racial disparity in vaccination rates, experts say, can be tied to a longstanding mistrust of medical institutions among African-Americans. Many Baton Rouge residents can readily cite the history of abuse: starting with the eugenics campaigns that forcibly sterilized Black women for nearly half of the 20th century, and the notorious government-run Tuskegee experiments in Alabama that withheld penicillin from hundreds of Black men with syphilis, some of whom later died of the disease. ‘The distrust among Black Americans comes from a real place and to pretend it doesn’t exist or to question whether it’s rational is a recipe for failure,’ said Thomas A. LaVeist, an expert on health equity and dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University. Dr. LaVeist has been advising Louisiana officials on ways to increase vaccination rates.” 

COVID proves clinical trials must proactively recruit participants of color: Jo Wiederhorn, president of Associated Medical Schools of New York, a nonprofit that represents New York’s 17 medical schools, writes for The Hill: “In the year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent death of more than 500,000 Americans, researchers around the world have raced to develop vaccines at an unprecedented pace. But the quest to stop the pandemic in its tracks has collided with a long-standing problem: the lack of diversity in clinical trials. This issue must be addressed, and the new federal administration can help. Clinical trials and the people who volunteer to participate in them are essential to help develop safe and effective vaccines and cures. So what can the new Biden Administration do? They can push to ensure health agencies like the FDA and the NIH prioritize, promote and support diversity in clinical trials. More diversity in clinical trials — more diversity across all of medicine — will serve to improve health equity and the health of our entire nation.” 

In San Antonio, teachers hit the street in search of students disappearing from online learning: Teachers from Rawlinson Middle School in San Antonio have been spending the day knocking on doors, from public housing apartment buildings to a middle class suburban neighborhood where nearly every house had a doorbell with a built in security camera. Since the beginning of the school year, a squad of Rawlinson teachers have visited around 100 homes. Once every few weeks, school staff develop a list of kids in urgent need of a visit. Two teachers volunteer, they set a date and the school hires substitute teachers. With half the school’s 1,350 students learning remotely, and thus at a higher risk of chronic absence, teachers from Rawlinson have come knocking at the first sign of trouble this school year. This story comes from a special COVID collection curated by the Solutions Journalism Network. 

Briefing for March 9, 2021

Many juvenile jails are now filled almost entirely with young people of color: From Eli Hager at The Marshall Project: “White youths were being released from juvenile detention centers at a far higher rate than their Black peers during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and young people of color have since been detained for longer than they were before the crisis, according to data gathered by a leading children’s philanthropy. So many kids were freed from jail last year that by late summer, fewer children were incarcerated than at any point since at least the 1980s. But many youth facilities are increasingly holding almost entirely Black and Latino teens, according to interviews with more than a dozen juvenile justice officials and attorneys in seven states. Though the racial inequality in youth detention has long been vast, it’s wider than ever, experts say. They point to several possible explanations, including bias from judges and other officials, and young people of color being detained for more serious offenses and having fewer alternatives to incarceration in their communities. ‘It’s fitting that in 2020, the year that juxtaposed COVID and racial justice protests, we saw this shrinking of the system — but also a resistance to doing so for young Black people,’ said Patricia Soung, a juvenile attorney and former director of youth justice policy for the Children’s Defense Fund in California.” 

Alaska’s remote regions race against time and history in rush to vaccinate: The New York Times reports: “In a state where the Indigenous population has been ravaged by global disease outbreaks for generations, the coronavirus pandemic has killed Alaska Natives at quadruple the rate of white residents. The virus has taken hold in remote communities, setting up an urgent race between infections and vaccinations during a season in which weather can limit travel, the sun may only wink above the horizon and large, multigenerational families are crowded indoors. When the pandemic began a year ago, Alaska’s isolation was an asset that provided villages an opportunity to set up lockdowns, testing requirements and controls on travel. But as the virus has slowly seeped across the state, the rising infections have demonstrated how quickly isolation can turn into a liability. In Pilot Station, a 37-year-old man died after weather prevented a medevac plane from reaching him. The virus has raged in some communities that have minimal sanitation, in some cases infecting more than 60% of residents. Yet thanks to the steady supply of vaccines available to Native Alaska tribes and a massive delivery effort involving bush planes, boats, sleds and snow mobiles, 16% of the population has received a second dose of the vaccine, the highest in the nation. One of the regional operations, Operation Togo, harks back to the grueling 1925 sled dog run that rushed diphtheria antitoxin across the state to an outbreak in Nome.” 

The generational divide among Republicans on a federal child allowance: Writing for the New York Times, Christopher Buskirk analyzes the mounting debate among Republicans about increasing the Child Tax Credit or creating a new child allowance. The Biden administration’s COVID relief plan passed Saturday by the Senate will pay families a cash benefit of up to $3,600 per year for each child under 6 years old and $3,000 per year for those aged 6 to 17. That increased benefit is just for this year and a legislative battle is already stirring to create a permanent benefit, with a competing plan put forward by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). Writes Buskirk: “Republicans have long prided themselves on being the pro-family party. But what does that really mean? The debate over the child allowance makes that palpable. And it’s forcing Republicans to decide who they are. Will they be the party of capital gains tax cuts or of cash payments that make it more practical for parents to raise their own children? Is there a way for the party to embrace both?” 

Cities struggle to balance homelessness with public safety during pandemic: Addressing homelessness has taken on new urgency in cities across the country over the past year, as officials grapple with a growing unhoused population and the need to preserve public safety during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s led to tension when cities move in to clear encampments — often for health and safety reasons — causing some to rethink the role of law enforcement when interacting with people experiencing homelessness. Law enforcement won’t be among the first responders to homeless encampments in Denver moving forward, Mayor Michael Hancock told Axios last month. A “compassion or civilian corps” would clean up tent cities, instead of armed police officers, he said. As camps are cleared, cities have been scrambling to provide additional shelter and resources for people living on the streets, a process made difficult by reduced shelter capacity to accommodate social distancing. 

The pandemic fueled a domestic violence crisis  The relief bill could help women and children leave abusers: Against a backdrop of increasing domestic violence across the country, federal assistance could make a life-changing difference for many families living through a pandemic that has heightened mental health, child care and economic challenges, experts said. The Senate approved a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Saturday that includes $24 billion to stabilize the child care industry, $15 billion for childcare subsidies and $450 million for domestic violence services. The legislation now returns to the House, where it is expected to be passed and sent to President Joe Biden for final approval. Leaving a domestic violence situation is always difficult for the victim because they lack resources and support, and it can be dangerous, experts said. But the pandemic has compounded the challenges with shelter-in-place orders and the economic recession. COVID-19 has resulted in the disappearance of 4.5 million child care slots across the USA because of social distancing and lockdowns, according to The Center for American Progress. 

Addiction in the pandemic — Staying in treatment while remaining COVID safe: A look from 100 Days in Appalachia at addiction recovery efforts in the Ohio Valley, an early epicenter of the opioid crisis that has seen overdose fatalities soar during the pandemic — in parts of the region, the rate of increase has surpassed the national average. “But while the pandemic is compounding the addiction crisis, it has also catalyzed additional state and federal responses to the epidemic. From local clinics and state agencies to newly appointed officials in the White House, people are looking for ways to tackle both new and existing barriers to treatment during the pandemic. When the pandemic first emerged, many addiction treatment programs went to a virtual setting online. But, as with many aspects of work and education, that shift exposed common barriers people face as economic inequality and infrastructure gaps restricted access to telemedicine visits. ‘We take it for granted, everyone has a cell phone, everyone has a laptop or a computer. But that’s not necessarily the case,’ said Dr. Tuyen T. Tran, CEO of 2nd Chance, a recovery center in Lexington, Ky. ‘And so we experienced many difficulties with getting our patients seen with telehealth.’” 

Briefing for March 8, 2021

Biden bets on low-income Americans to fuel a COVID recovery: Jim Tankersley of the New York Times looks at the bottom-up strategy behind President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. “To jump-start the ailing economy, President Biden is turning to the lowest-paid workers in America, and to the people who are currently unable to work at all. Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package, which cleared the Senate on Saturday and could be headed for the president’s signature in a matter of days, would overwhelmingly help low earners and the middle class, with little direct aid for the high earners who have largely kept their jobs and padded their savings over the past year. For the president, the plan is more than just a stimulus proposal. It is a declaration of his economic policy — one that captures the principle Democrats and liberal economists have espoused over the past decade: that the best way to stoke faster economic growth is from the bottom up. Mr. Biden’s approach in his first major economic legislation is in stark contrast to President Donald J. Trump’s, whose initial effort in Congress was a tax-cut package in 2017 that largely benefited corporations and wealthier Americans.” 

In the COVID relief bill, a policy revolution in aid for children: The New York Times’ Jason DeParle marks the historic increase of the Child Tax Credit included in the Biden administration’s COVID relief legislation. “Obscured by other parts of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which won Senate approval on Saturday, the child benefit has the makings of a policy revolution. Though framed in technocratic terms as an expansion of an existing tax credit, it is essentially a guaranteed income for families with children, akin to children’s allowances that are common in other rich countries. The plan establishes the benefit for a single year. But if it becomes permanent, as Democrats intend, it will greatly enlarge the safety net for the poor and the middle class at a time when the volatile modern economy often leaves families moving between those groups. More than 93% of children — 69 million — would receive benefits under the plan, at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion.” 

LGTBQ people face increased risk from COVID, but many fear the vaccine: Research has shown that sexual and gender minorities, and especially people of color, are more vulnerable to becoming infected with the coronavirus and also more likely to have underlying conditions that could make them severely ill if they were to contract COVID-19. But many of the very people who are most at risk within these communities are also hesitant to take the vaccine, according to a recent study and interviews with health care workers as well as people of color who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. “There’s an overarching mistrust around vaccination,” Anthony Fortenberry, the chief nursing officer of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which provides medical care to L.G.B.T.Q. people in New York City, told the New York Times. “They’re not sure if they want to get it.” 

Online vaccine sign-ups make internet access a matter of life and death: Claire Park, a program associate with New America’s Open Technology Institute, writes for the Washington Post that the inequities in broadband access are creating dangerous barriers for many communities in registering for vaccine appointments: “Getting a vaccine shouldn’t depend on having high-speed Internet service, a computer and familiarity with being online, but it often does. By reviewing digital resources such as The Washington Post’s tracker of vaccinations across the country, residents can stay informed about the coronavirus and sign up for vaccinations online. Yet more than 77 million people in the United States lack Internet at home — and worse, many of them do not have access to a smartphone, making it that much more difficult for them to learn what’s available when and to whom. According to a study from the Pew Research Center, more than four in 10 adults with incomes below $30,000 a year don’t have home broadband services or a computer, and three in 10 adults in the same income bracket don’t own a smartphone. And even when they are in the loop, these people must also resort to calling state hotlines and waiting for hours on hold to reserve what vaccination appointments remain after many have already been booked online. While some states and communities reserve a number of appointments daily for those calling in, most groups still assume that everyone has the time, Internet service and device to make their appointment on the Web.” 

Using the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine to create trust and equity: Ruth R. Faden, the founder and inaugural director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and Ruth A. Karron, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Immunization Research and founder of the Johns Hopkins Vaccine Initiative, write for STAT that in order for the new, one-shot J&J vaccine to achieve its full potential, it must not be seen as the favored vaccine for low-income communities and communities of color. “To forestall any perception that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is inferior or is being targeted to disadvantaged people, immunization programs should start with the presumption that the J&J and either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines will be made available to all communities. Deploying the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in well-resourced areas will help contain the pernicious public health and equity implications of the narrative that it is a second-class vaccine.” 

‘A nightmare every day’  Inside an overwhelmed Los Angeles funeral home: A powerful look by the New York Times at a Los Angeles funeral home in the midst of the winter COVID spike. “The chapel at Continental Funeral Home was once a place where the living remembered the dead. Now the pews, chairs and furniture have been pushed aside to make room, and the dead far outnumber the living. On a Thursday afternoon last month in Continental’s chapel in East Los Angeles, across the street from a 7-Eleven, there were four bodies in cardboard boxes. And two bodies in open coffins, awaiting makeup. And seven wrapped in white and pink sheets on wheeled stretchers. And 18 in closed coffins where the pews used to be. And 31 on the shelves of racks against the walls. The math numbed the heart as much as the mind — 62 bodies. Elsewhere at Continental — in the hallways beyond the chapel, in the trailers outside — there were even more.” 

Slow progress in ongoing water crisis in Jackson, MS: Already one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic and also one of the slowest in raising vaccination rates, Mississippi continues to struggle with a water crisis prompted by last month’s historic ice storm and freezing temperatures. Jackson officials say they’re heading in the right direction and progress is being made. “I’m truly grateful for our residents,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba wrote on Twitter on Friday. “Their resilience throughout this crisis has inspired me beyond words.” More than 100 water main breaks and leaks were reported throughout the city, officials said last week, at least 70 of which have been repaired. According to the latest report from the city, less than 1,000 connections — often the points where pipes at businesses and homes connect to the main water supply — are still affected and they are mostly in “small pockets of south Jackson.”

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