7 Ways COVID Has Exacerbated Disparities and What You Can Do

Now is not a time to sit on our hands.

Posted May 09, 2020

Claudio Schwarz/Unsplash
Source: Claudio Schwarz/Unsplash

Our current state of emergency is exacerbating challenges related to social determinants of health, including housing and food insecurity, and accessing health care and other resources, highlighting disparities for those experiencing forms of poverty, especially in rural regions.

Here are seven examples:

1. It is difficult for the homeless to remain socially distanced. The CDC recommends shelters place mats and beds at least three feet apart, provide access to cleaning supplies, tissues, and plastic bags, ensure bathrooms are stocked with soap, check in with individuals displaying symptoms of COVID-19, confine clients who display symptoms, and refer clients with severe symptoms to healthcare facilities. These are necessary protocols, yet they are extremely difficult for shelters to implement.

2. High-risk individuals have limited options for accessing food. Seniors may rightly be apprehensive to go to the grocery store or else get there and struggle to find items they need. Others cannot afford to stock up on nonperishables. And many need transportation assistance.

3. The challenges of rural healthcare have been exacerbated as individuals need access to providers to assess health status or access to a test. Patients often already live insurmountable distances from the nearest provider, making geography a major barrier to care, and the realities of this crisis compound the effects of such limited options for medical care.

4. Telehealth has emerged as an essential tool, but individuals living in rural areas have limited access to a broadband internet connection. While telehealth can help connect them to a qualified provider, broadband and internet are necessary to connect to telehealth.

5. Rural health also faces threats due to fewer healthcare resources and a high population of older adults with multiple chronic conditions who may be at higher risk for coronavirus.

6. As the economy shrinks, job security becomes precarious, many incomes plummet, and the social safety net could falter.

7. Finally, many families' home lives and resources greatly limit their ability to support their children in homeschooling. Let's not miss the fact that those schools that are continuing to grade students for work required to be completed through technological means, often requiring significant parental support, are grading on privilege more than anything else.

Michael Swan/Wikimedia Commons
Protesters hold up a banner above Nathan Phillips Square.
Source: Michael Swan/Wikimedia Commons

Now is not a time to sit on our hands. Many community social service, public health, and philanthropic organizations can be proud of initial efforts during this crisis to increase supplies of masks and other PPE, to promote handwashing education with local citizens, to support local health jurisdictions’ incident command systems as well as health centers' COVID-19 efforts through financial support and local, regional, state, and federal advocacy efforts. Yet many fall through the cracks in these efforts, and we must be careful to identify and support organizations and initiatives which are taking care of those whose most basic needs are even greater during a time of extreme societal crisis.

We must ensure state governments, who are on the front lines of protecting public health and helping those in poverty, can provide emergency economic assistance to those most in need.

Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners, has recommended that Congress extend Medicaid funding for testing and treatment to undocumented people, provide cash assistance under the CARES Act to undocumented people and their U.S. citizen families, and ensure assistance received during the pandemic cannot be used against people in future determinations of eligibility for public benefits. Wallis stated, "farmworkers, who are risking their health to provide food to all of us, must be provided with protective equipment and access to paid sick leave and unemployment insurance."

Additionally, Wallis reminded, "Ensuring an accurate nationwide count even in this nearly unprecedented crisis is critical to fair representation in Congress and adequate funding for federal programs, especially for those in poverty, people of color, and undocumented immigrants, all of whom are at risk every 10 years of being undercounted in the census."

While many rightly applaud Congress for the near-unanimous passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), which includes many important provisions to help people affected by COVID-19, much more is needed to ensure the most vulnerable families have the support they need.

United States Department of Agriculture/Wikimedia Commons
EBT cards from several states.
Source: United States Department of Agriculture/Wikimedia Commons

Bread for the World, a non-partisan, Christian citizens' movement in the United States to end hunger, has called on the U.S. Congress to boost Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) maximum benefits by 15 percent and suspend all rulemaking that would limit access to SNAP to ensure vulnerable populations in the U.S. have access to the resources they need.

The New York Times recently reported preliminary data released by New York City which shows how the coronavirus is killing black and Latino people at twice the rate that it is killing white people, with data nationwide reflecting this trend.

On April 15th, a group of black pastors and researchers called on the Trump administration to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority communities. Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes III, senior pastor of the 12,000-member Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, said eloquently, "Sadly and immorally, we live in a country where skin color is hazardous to one’s health and mortality is not determined by one's genetic code but instead by one’s zip code."

What can you do to make a difference? First, provide support however you can to organizations on the front lines of supporting the most vulnerable. Second, contact your regional state representatives and make sure they understand that their response to this pandemic is only as good as how it protects the most vulnerable citizens they represent.

Dr. Haynes remixed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s aphorism on injustice, saying, “Infection anywhere is a threat to health and wellness everywhere.”