Briefing for November 16-20, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for November 16-20, 2020 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 this daily news service summarizing relevant stories, and a concise weekly summary alternative as well.  You can see it below.

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Briefing for November 20, 2020

Poverty rate spiked when $600 stimulus payments expired, study finds: The U.S. poverty rate rose by nearly 2% over the summer, with about 7 million more Americans falling below the line, according to new research from the University of Chicago, the University of Notre Dame and Zhejiang University in China. The expiration of government assistance programs likely contributed to the increase, which rose to 11.3% in September and October, from 9.4% from April to June, according to the study, which analyzed income level data from monthly U.S. census surveys. Despite declining unemployment numbers, the current rate is almost half a percentage point higher than it was before the pandemic began. The authors of the study connect this increase to the end of programs such as the weekly $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) payments and one-time stimulus checks. 

The Biden adviser focused on the pandemic’s stark racial disparities: Politico profiles Marcella Nunez-Smith, an expert on health care inequality, who President-elect Joe Biden has chosen to help lead the transition’s coronavirus advisory board. “That puts the fight against the virus in devastated Black, Latino and Native American communities smack in the center of his pandemic response,” Joanne Kenen writes. “His selection of Nunez-Smith, a Yale researcher who was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, for such a visible post reflects how his incoming administration is trying to reach minority voters, who helped revive his lagging bid for the Democratic nomination and who have often felt ignored by the outgoing Trump administration. It also shows Biden recognizes that the pandemic can’t be beat without going to where it’s doing the most damage.” 

COVID-19 is sending Black, Latino and Native-American people to the hospital at four times the rate of others: Black, Hispanic and Native American people infected with COVID-19 are about four times more likely to be hospitalized than others, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows. In the eight-month period between March 1 to November 7, there were 70,825 hospitalizations reported to the CDC. While white and non-Hispanic Black people represented the highest number of hospitalizations, racial and ethnic groups were disproportionately impacted. The rate for Hispanic or Latino was approximately 4.2 times the rate of non-Hispanic white persons, according to the CDC data. The same was true for American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic Black people, who were hospitalized about 4.1 and 3.9 times the rate of non-Hispanic white persons, the CDC said.  

For families of color, the pandemic brings an outsized economic hit: The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is hitting families of color particularly hard. 86% of Latino households with children and 66% of Black households with children reported serious financial problems during the outbreak, including depleting savings, trouble paying credit card bills and other debt, and affording medical care, according to a September poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Meanwhile, 51% of white households with children reported the same. A separate poll by the organizations found that 55% of Native American households also were facing significant money issues. 

Child vaccine uptake down 26% this year, report estimates: Nine million childhood vaccines are projected to be missed by the end of this year in the United States — a 26% decrease compared with 2019 — according to a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) report. This decline would cause a gap between vaccination rate and that required for herd immunity of 4.8 percentage points for measles and 12.7 percentage points for pertussis (whooping cough). Polio would still maintain a 2.9-percentage-point buffer. According to BCBS medical claims, both measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DtaP) childhood vaccination rates dropped 26% January through September year-over-year. 

Judge says coronavirus can’t be used as a reason to quickly deport unaccompanied minors:  A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Trump administration to stop deporting minor immigrants on the grounds that they are a coronavirus threat. The government has already expelled nearly 9,000 children who crossed the border alone, seeking protection, citing a public health order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since March, immigration agents have been ejecting nearly everyone — children and adults — who shows up at the U.S. border asking for asylum. The government had insisted that it had to turn youngsters back to prevent the possible infection of border agents, youth shelter workers and other immigrants in custody. But federal Judge Emmet Sullivan issued a preliminary injunction in Washington, telling immigration agents to stop the rapid expulsions of unaccompanied childrenU.S. Customs and Border Protection had been housing the children temporarily in border hotels before they could be deported, but another federal judge’s order told them to stop that practice. 

Briefing for November 19, 2020

A reminder to incoming policymakers  Follow the evidence for what works: MDRC President Virginia Knox tells Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity that while the Biden-Harris administration “will be faced with decisions about the high levels of inequality and low levels of mobility into the middle class that make it hard for people to attain their ambitions and, in doing so, threaten the economy and our political and social fabric,” the good news is “that public and philanthropic investments have built a foundation of evidence that can inform each stage of the decision process.” 

New study finds senior isolation and food insecurity increasing dramatically in rural areas: As food insecurity rises among older adults in the United States, a new study from Indiana University is uncovering factors that prevent older residents from accessing the food they need. To further assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food provisioning, the research team also surveyed 5,000 households in lower-income census tracts across four Indiana counties during April, May and June 2020. Seniors who participated in the discussions and survey reported that living alone decreases their motivation to prepare balanced meals and reduces joy from eating. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated those feelings, the survey found, significantly increasing seniors’ feelings of loneliness, making them feel left out and isolated. While 23% of those surveyed felt “left out” often or sometimes before the pandemic, 40% felt so after it began. Similarly, 7% felt “isolated” often or sometimes before the pandemic, but 61% felt so after the pandemic started. And while 25% felt they “lacked companionship” often or sometimes before the pandemic, 42% felt so after. 

Unemployment claims increase for the first time in a month: In a concerning development as the pandemic grows worse across the country, 742,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits on a seasonally adjusted basis last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. That was a up from the week before and the first increase in unemployment claims since the week of October 10. Meanwhile, 320,237 workers filed claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which is designed to help those who aren’t usually eligible for jobless benefits, such as the self-employed. That number also rose from the prior week. 

Recession with a difference  Women face special burden: For millions of working women, the coronavirus pandemic has delivered a rare and ruinous one-two-three punch. First, the parts of the economy that were smacked hardest and earliest by job losses were ones where women dominate — restaurants, retail businesses and health care. Then a second wave began taking out local and state government jobs, another area where women outnumber men. The third blow has, for many, been the knockout: the closing of child care centers and the shift to remote schooling. That has saddled working mothers, much more than fathers, with overwhelming household responsibilities. “We’ve never seen this before,” said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan and the mother of a second grader and a sixth grader. Recessions usually start by gutting the manufacturing and construction industries, where men hold most of the jobs, she said. 

Pharma trade group issues guidelines for improving diversity of clinical trial participants: The pharmaceutical industry’s largest lobbying organization released guidelines on Tuesday to enhance racial and ethnic diversity among participants in clinical trials run by its member drug makers. The principles address a problem that has long hampered the development of new medicines and vaccines, including the studies of potential COVID-19 shots. The group, PhRMA, noted that the guidelines are voluntary; they do not take effect until April 2021. It outlined four main areas of focus to decrease health disparities and address systemic racism in medical research. The first is to build trust through outreach to Black and brown communities, which have been historically underrepresented in clinical trials, and to acknowledge past wrongdoings that have fueled distrust, such as the Tuskegee syphilis study and the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman who in 1951 had her cancer cells taken and used for research without her permission. PhRMA also set goals for companies to reduce barriers to accessing clinical trials in these communities; monitor how treatments or preventive measures work in diverse populations after the clinical trials are over and the products have been approved; and to be transparent about their commitments and efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in clinical trials. 

As COVID-19 upsets family finances, college students are being forced to rethink their dreams: Some college students have seen their parents laid off, lose jobs or close businesses — major events that have shaken their family finances. That’s forced some to have to jump in earlier than expected to help their family financially. It’s caused them to really take a hard look at their dreams. Is what they originally intended to do after graduation still worth it? Over 50% of parents with college-age students said one earner had lost a job or had work hours reduced, and nearly 8% had a “catastrophic” experience where all sources of income were lost, according to a recent survey by the College Savings Foundation. Two-thirds of college students said the crisis has changed their outlook on their financial future, according to WalletHub’s 2020 College Student Financial survey. 

Briefing for November 18, 2020

Over 1 million children tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S.: Children now make up at least 1 in 11 of all reported U.S. coronavirus cases. That’s according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. On Monday, the AAP said more than 1 million children have tested positive for the coronavirus in the United States. “As a pediatrician who has practiced medicine for over three decades, I find this number staggering and tragic. We haven’t seen a virus flash through our communities in this way since before we had vaccines for measles and polio,” AAP President Sally Goza said in a statement. The data are compiled from state reports and show 1,039,464 children have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Nov. 12. In the one-week period ending that day, there were nearly 112,000 new cases in children, the largest one-week increase. 

Biden’s big challenge — A growing racial wealth gap: When he takes office on Jan. 20, Joe Biden will face a gap between Black and white wealth that has grown into a yawning chasm during the past 10 months. The pandemic has shuttered tens of thousands of businesses and left millions out of work. And communities of color have borne the brunt of the economic devastation, particularly Black-owned businesses that have failed at a far greater rate during the pandemic than white-owned businesses. Many that remain may not survive the current pandemic wave without significant help from the federal government before effective vaccines finally arrive. Biden’s presidency may rise or fall on his ability to execute policies — possibly with a GOP majority in the Senate — that address systemic economic inequality, which often leaves Black families and businesses far more vulnerable to economic shocks.  

Did pork plants sacrifice safety for profits? USA TODAY and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting spent five months piecing together the pivotal moments in the outbreak at Triumph Foods in St. Joseph, Missouri, interviewing more than a dozen current and former workers and examining thousands of pages of government records. The reporting found Triumph failed to respond with effective safeguards during a crucial period from mid-March to mid-April that could have contained the spread of COVID-19. Local health officials, who received complaints from employees and their family members, missed several opportunities to investigate. They instead took the company’s word that it was doing all it could to protect its workers. As outbreaks spread through meatpacking plants across the country, some experts warned that Triumph and others in the industry would choose production over worker safety. Since then, workers and their unions have accused companies of doing the bare minimum to protect staff and time and again finding ways to keep their lines running. 

American Medical Association calls racism a public health threat: Building on its June pledge to confront systemic racism and police brutality, the AMA has taken action to explicitly recognize racism as a public health threat and detailed a plan to mitigate its effects. “The AMA recognizes that racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities. Without systemic and structural-level change, health inequities will continue to exist, and the overall health of the nation will suffer,” said AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards, MD, MBA. 

Biden wants to help pay some student loans but may be pressured to do more: President-elect Joe Biden has affirmed his support for erasing some student debt “immediately.” Student debt forgiveness was a major campaign plank of some of his more progressiverivals for the Democratic nomination, but it remains controversial among some Democrats even as it has become another economic hurdle for millions impacted by the pandemic. In answer to a question at a Monday press conference, Biden repeated his support for a provision passed as part of the HEROES Act, which the Democratic-controlled House updated on Oct. 1. The provision calls for the federal government to pay off up to $10,000 in private, nonfederal student loans for “economically distressed” borrowers. Biden specifically highlighted “people … having to make choices between paying their student loan and paying the rent,” and said the debt relief “should be done immediately.” Senate Democrats are pushing for much more debt relief. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer co-authored a resolution in September with Sen. Elizabeth Warren calling for the next president to cancel up to $50,000 of outstanding federal student loans per borrower. According to data from the College Board, that would mean erasing all debt for more than three-quarters of borrowers. 

Briefing for November 17, 2020

Navajo Nation enters new lockdown as COVID-19 cases rise: After warning of “uncontrolled spread” of the coronavirus last week, the Navajo Nation entered a lockdown on Monday in an effort to stop infections. Nonessential businesses are closed. Schools have been moved to online learning. Roads within the nation are closed to visitors. The lockdown will last at least three weeks. “Unfortunately, it appears that this pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better. The projections from our health care experts indicate that the Navajo Nation, as well as the country, is on an upward trajectory in terms of new cases of COVID-19,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a Sunday statement. “Please hold yourselves and your loved ones accountable and please pray for our Nation.” The reservation spreads across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The government ordered a lockdown for the nation of over 170,000 between March and August in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

Homeless shelters grapple with coronavirus safety as cold weather creeps in: Cold-weather cities across the nation are seeking creative ways to cautiously shelter homeless people this winter. Exposure to the elements kills individuals staying outside every year, so indoor refuges can be lifesaving. But fewer options exist nowadays, as coronavirus concerns limit access to libraries, public recreation facilities and restaurants. And in official shelters, safety precautions — spacing out beds and chairs, emphasizing masks and hand-washing, testing — are critical. 

More Black and Latinx students were going to college — Then COVID hit: Largely low-income, Hispanic, and with parents whose own educations didn’t get past high school, the young people in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas over the past decade started doing something few of their predecessors had done: going to college. As the community near the Mexican border came together to prioritize education, scores in math and reading on state standardized tests rose. So did high school graduation rates, from 87% to 92%, and the proportion of students filling out the federal application for college financial aid. The number who went on to higher education inched up, to 57%, from 56%. Then the pandemic descended

Small colleges probably stoked epidemic in rural America, epidemiologists say: One cause of the spike in COVID-19 cases in rural communities in the West, Northwest, and Midwest is likely the return of in-person classes at colleges and universities, experts in infectious diseases said during a briefing last week. States like North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Montana, Wisconsin and others avoided high numbers of cases throughout the summer. But cases began to accelerate in early September. That timing leads Andrew Pavia, M.D., chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah School of Medicine, to theorize that the reopening of colleges was a major factor in the surge in those states. “There are many colleges in these states where young people come from all over and gather,” Pavia said. “Most of the states that are heavily hit have kept in-person schooling and, probably more important, have kept their extracurriculars and sports going on.” 

Small-town hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 deaths: Small hospitals, understaffed and financially vulnerable before the pandemic, are under siege as the virus runs unchecked from North Dakota to the Texas Panhandle. Many of these hospitals are in towns where people are more likely to eschew precautions such as masks and social distancing at churchesgrocery stores and other public places. Many of the nation’s nearly 1,800 rural hospitals lack the equipment, workforce and expertise to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients. Nurses and doctors are getting sick, leaving already short-staffed hospitals more desperate for workers. 

A pandemic newsletter writer’s view of America: Patrice Peck, the author and creator of Coronavirus News for Black Folks, writes in Wired of her front-row seat as the pandemic has decimated many communities of color. Peck writes of the early days of her newsletter: “Mostly, though, what I’m doing is curating. I spend hours poring over the internet, trying to find the most reliable and relevant news about the plague for Black people; each edition of the newsletter contains dozens of links and summaries. I start by publishing every couple of days, then settle into a roughly once-a-week rhythm. I carefully scan Black publications. I run search terms like ‘African American’ + ‘Black’ + ‘pandemic’ + ‘COVID-19.’ And then I present what seems like the most important stuff in one place. It’s pretty straightforward, but there’s something powerful and terrifying about it: To run those particular search terms day after day is to stare down the barrel of all the biggest things coming for America in the summer of 2020. It’s to be a sentinel.” 

Briefing for November 16, 2020

Trump student loan cliff could bring chaos: At midnight on New Year’s Eve, President Donald Trump’s pause on student loan payments for 33 million Americans is set to expire, just three weeks before President-elect Joe Biden is slated to take over. The Education Department started warning borrowers through text messages and emails this week that their monthly payments will resume in January. Even though Trump said this summer that he planned to later “extend” the freeze beyond Dec. 31, a White House spokesperson declined to comment on whether the president is still considering another executive action to move the expiration date. If Trump doesn’t act unilaterally and Congress doesn’t act to avert the cliff either, Biden could wave his own executive wand once inaugurated, though the president-elect’s campaign will not divulge his plans. The intervening weeks of limbo could cause mass confusion and uncertainty for borrowers. For the incoming president, the economic and administrative mess could take months to untangle, consuming the early days of his Education Department. 
Blue states and red states are both doing school re-openings wrong: What does an effective plan to open schools look like? Vox offers some suggestions

  • Clear guidance on how and when to open (and close) schools 
  • Clear guidance for distancing at schools 
  • Strong mask mandates at the federal, state, district and school levels 
  • Robust testing and contact tracing 

Proportion of pediatric emergency room visits for mental health increased sharply in pandemic: The proportion of mental health-related pediatric visits to hospitals are on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysis released last week. The CDC data found mental health-related emergency room visits increased 31% for children between the ages of 12 and 17 from March to October compared to the same period in 2019. There was also a 24% increase in emergency room visits for children between the ages of 5 and 11. The increase comes as in-person school schedules have been dramatically reduced to stem the spread of COVID-19, limiting children’s interactions with peers and teachers. In addition, sports and extracurricular activities have been limited or canceled — conditions that could isolate children at home and cause anxiety, depression, lack of sleep and bad eating habits.  

How language barriers can add anguish and complicate care for COVID-19 patients: In Chicago, patients, community leaders and health officials say language barriers are “an added burden” to those suffering from COVID-19 and their loved ones. They recognize the lack of bilingual medical staff and prevention resources in Spanish influenced the way the virus harshly hit the Latino community in Chicago and across the nation. 

COVID-19 kills twice as many in Mississippi’s poorest counties — areas where slavery was concentrated: From the Mississippi Free Press: “The first plague hit long before the second one struck this year. ‘The COVID-19 pandemic is pulling the lid off conditions that we have not addressed for generations,’ said Bill Bynum, CEO of Hope Credit Union, which serves low-income communities in Mississippi. ‘These rural and high-poverty areas are being hit harder because they’re so much more fragile.’”

Mold, possums and pools of sewage — dying from coronavirus in rural Alabama: Catherine Coleman Flowers writes for The New York Times of the death of Pamela Rush in Alabama’s Lowndes County, where 90% of residents have failing or inadequate wastewater systems. 

Incarcerated Texans are dying of COVID-19 at a rate 35% higher than the rest of the U.S. prison population: From the Texas Tribune: “With more than 23,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas prisons, incarcerated Texans are testing positive at a rate 40% higher than the national prison population average, according to a new report from the University of Texas at Austin. And with at least 190 inmate deaths linked to the virus, the state’s death rate is 35% higher than the rest of the U.S. prison population, the report found. Texas, which has the largest population of people behind bars in the country, has led the nation for most COVID-19 prison and jail deaths of any system in the country. The state’s infection rate in prison, per 10,000 people, is the second-highest in the nation, behind Florida, and Texas is tied at No. 3 for the highest death rate linked to the virus.” 

Anti-hunger groups urge Biden to quickly implement new policies as pandemic continues: President-elect Joe Biden is facing calls from anti-hunger groups to roll back some of the signature initiatives of the Trump administration, namely regulatory policies aimed at reducing the number of Americans eligible for food assistance. The incoming administration is being urged to halt the “categorical eligibility” SNAP rule proposed last year that would cut nutrition assistance for households with savings and other assets. Officials have said the rule would cut benefits to 3 million people and impede automatic access to free school meals for nearly 1 million children. Anti-hunger groups are also calling on the president-elect to reverse the “public charge” rule, which would deny green cards to immigrants who use food stamps or other public benefits. 

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