Amid an outbreak of a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), many communities around the world are taking measures to prevent further spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 by closing universities, canceling events and requiring extended quarantine of anyone who may have come in contact with someone with the disease. While these precautions aim to contain the outbreak, they are also exposing longstanding gaps in health and human services across the country.
While these precautions aim to contain the outbreak, they are also exposing longstanding gaps in health and human services across the country.
Although many have equipped themselves with emergency supplies in preparation, pandemics like COVID-19 pose an even bigger health threat to vulnerable populations – low-income individuals, children and senior citizens – who may not be able to afford to miss work or have the resources to stock up at the store.
Many students, at both the K-12 and collegiate levels, rely on school for food, medical care and a safe environment. As school closures loom across Ohio, after Governor Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency after the disease was confirmed in the state, many families may be faced with unforeseen decisions about child care, benefits and safety. New York City, which has the largest public-school system in the U.S., is committed to keep public schools open for this reason .
Large-scale closings can also mean other services are disrupted, if parents have to stay home with their children or if public transit is limited, essential services may be inadequate.
Senior citizens who often rely on a fixed monthly Social Security benefit and those who rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which are also issued once a month, risk food insecurity if they are forced to quarantine or if essential services go down. Since this population tends to not have substantial savings or extra income, they don’t have the means to panic buy – or stockpile essentials — just in case. Additionally, seniors rely on other assistance programs such as Meals on Wheels which address the escalating problem of senior hunger and isolation. If the program was forced to cease operations, even temporarily, many seniors would be forced to figure out an alternative without much notice.
Since this population tends to not have substantial savings or extra income, they don’t have the means to panic buy – or stockpile essentials – just in case.
Since it can be difficult and unsafe to quarantine or take up protective measures like frequent handwashing without stable housing, communities are enacting policies to keep people in their homes as the disease spreads. The mayor of Detroit, for example, plans to restore water to more than 3,000 households that were shut off because of delinquent bills, and offer a moratorium on water shutoffs until further notice . The mayor of San Jose has enacted a moratorium on the eviction of residents who cannot pay their rent due to substantial loss of income related to the disease . Other cities are considering similar measures, so residents aren’t stuck choosing between complying with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or their local health departments and paying rent.
To keep families safe and protect public health, decisions should be made and public policy should be considered in every community that keeps people in place, assures benefits are maintained and that individuals don’t have to choose between paying bills and staying protected.
- Shapiro, Eliza. “Coronavirus in N.Y.C.: Why Closing Public Schools Is a ‘Last Resort’” March 7, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/07/nyregion/nyc-schools-coronavirus.html
- Neavling, Steve. “As coronavirus spreads, Detroit to restore water to thousands of households, offer moratorium on shutoffs.” March 9, 2020. https://www.metrotimes.com/news-hits/archives/2020/03/09/as-coronavirus-spreads-detroit-to-restore-water-to-thousands-of-households-impose-moratorium-on-shutoffs
- Ramirez, Len. “San Jose Approves Moratorium On Evictions As Coronavirus Takes Toll On Economy.” March 10, 2020. https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2020/03/10/coronavirus-san-jose-approves-moratorium-on-evictions-toll-on-economy-business-covid-19/