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Researchers at the Center for Healthy Communities at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine explored this topic and have published a report to answer two critical questions.

Published Feb 9th, 2021

By Brittany Otis
botis@health.southalabama.edu

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, research shows Black, Latino and other minority communities have suffered greatly from the virus. Minorities experience more profound impacts in terms of disease severity and death if they contract COVID-19.

Researchers at the Center for Healthy Communities at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine explored this topic and have published a report to answer two critical questions:

  • How have minority communities been affected by the pandemic?
  • What are possible solutions to the problems?

The report, titled Perceptions, Needs, Challenges and Insights of an Underserved Community in the COVID-19 Pandemic, addresses these questions through a research study conducted with members of minority communities in Mobile.

Martha Arrieta, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of internal medicine at the USA College of Medicine and director of research at the Center for Healthy Communities, is the author of the report. Arrieta, along with other researchers, found families with fewer resources affected by the pandemic are impacted by four main stressors.

The stressors are increased childcare needs, added responsibility of remote education, economic peril due to job loss, strained mental health and disrupted social network connections because of isolation and social distancing measures.

COVID-19 has killed more than 450,000 people in the United States to date. Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at an increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. Factors such as healthcare access, occupation, educational and wealth gaps and discrimination contribute to the growing issue.

“We understand the problem of health disparities, so what can we can do next to offer resources to minority communities should be the ensuing question,” Arrieta said. “We hope leaders in our communities will read this report and apply the strategies outlined to help people most impacted by the virus.”

In the report, recommendations are provided to support minorities struggling with the pandemic. “Study participants emphasized that economic relief and food provision are key to shore up families, followed by increased access to technology, which was considered a lifeline to withstand the pandemic,” Arrieta explained.

They stressed that the public needs to have clear and concise information about COVID-19, such as its course and complications, the way the disease is transmitted and the safety of vaccines.

Researchers also suggest there should be unified messages through varied media. The messages should be conveyed by community leaders, such as state and local politicians, public health officials, medical professionals, scientists and pastors.

“Overall, messages should convey the changing situation and acknowledge the lives lost, but also provide comfort through dissemination of positive stories of recovery,” said Errol Crook, M.D., professor and Abraham A. Mitchell Chair of Internal Medicine, director of the Center of Healthy Communities and co-author of the report. “We recognize there is fear with the virus and becoming exposed, but we have to make it our duty to encourage people to keep up with their routine appointments to be able to continue healthy living.”

The study was conducted from April to May 2020. While the pandemic has evolved and people are adapting, a message has clearly emerged from the analysis that fundamental problems remain.

However, there has been an increase in help. Currently, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help end the pandemic and bring relief to communities, specifically people in minority communities. People can demonstrate their desire to be vaccinated through the USA Health vaccine registry. When they become eligible for vaccination and appointments are available, USA Health will contact them. Testing also has become more widely available.

Other co-authors of the report are Roma Hanks, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work and director of the Community Health Advocates program for the Center for Healthy Communities, and research assistants Lynette Parker and Mariah Carter.

To read the full report, visit the Center for Healthy Communities web page.

The Center for Healthy Communities provides education, research, public service and health activities to help eliminate health disparities, foster access to healthcare and enhance the capacity for people to make better decisions about their health.

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