COVID-19 image.Training Future Child Health Leaders

Not So Novel: COVID-19 Exposes Inequities in Vulnerable Communities

By: Lenora Codrington, DO

COVID-19 is called the great equalizer with the ability to affect the young, old, rich and poor.  However, preliminary studies have shown that COVID-19 disproportionately affects people of color with higher morbidity and mortality observed in these groups.  Preliminary data from the Connecticut Department of Public Health shows Non-Hispanic Black residents as well as Hispanic residents have rates of laboratory confirmed COVID-19 that are more than double that of Non-Hispanic White residents. Death rates are also higher for Non-Hispanic Black residents. The cause for this is multifactorial, ranging from access to care to economic insecurity to implicit bias in healthcare. As a pediatric resident working in an underserved community, it is disheartening to witness these statistics unfold. However, I believe this can also be a catalyst for change. We must commit to addressing educational, economic and medical inequities that plague people of color and those with low socioeconomic status.

Although children are relatively spared from COVID-19 illnesses, those in underserved communities have faced unique negative impacts of COVID-19. School closures have posed a multiplicity of tribulations including food insecurity, access to a safe environment, and access to education. While residents in Connecticut have about a 10% poverty rate, the poverty rate for residents in Hartford is about a 31% with many of them suffering from food insecurity. Schools provides food security for Hartford children. After school closures in March, there was immediate recognition for the need to continue to provide meals to students but this remained a temporary resolution to food insecurity and we need to make sure children have reliable access to food at all times. These efforts need to start with equipping parents with the tools to obtain and secure gainful employment. There needs to be more funding for organizations like Open Hearth, Aerospace Employment Placement Program, and Job Corps, which provide individuals with training and employment opportunities to allow for economic progression.

Finally, distance learning was difficult for children living in homes without access to the technology necessary to participate in digital classrooms. In Hartford, the school districts distributed laptops to students and internet companies provided wireless internet service to families below a certain income. Even so, there were still students without one or both of these necessary tools. Even if they are able to overcome the technical difficulties, many parents may have difficulty teaching their children. In Greater Hartford, 40% of adults report low literacy and in Hartford that number jumps to 70%. Children of color and those with low socioeconomic status are often starting behind their white and more financially stable counterparts due to inequitable educational policies.  Now due to distance learning, this gap will likely worsen. We need reform in educational policy with the most funding and assistance going to schools with the greatest needs. Education should be equitable so all children regardless of race or economic status receive equal chance for success.

COVID-19 has been a threat to both the economy and our health. It has exposed many inequities that are ignored or disregarded. Those communities who suffered in silence are negatively impacted more than ever. We must take action to create a more equitable society with better educational policies, funding for after school programs, improved access to food, and more employment opportunities for our communities.

Read more of our blog posts related to COVID-19 here.

Lenora Codrington, DO is a resident physician at Connecticut Children’s and the UConn School of Medicine.

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