NIHCM Newsletter / August 2020
COVID-19: Concerns about Reopening Schools
The CDC published guidelines to help schools and administrators reopen safely. Child health experts around the country acknowledge the difficulties that schools will face when reopening and how returning kids could spread the virus. A recent survey found that 70% of parents believe it is risky for schools to reopen in the fall, with Black and Hispanic parents voicing more concerns than their white counterparts.
- While more evidence is needed on children’s transmission of COVID-19, the risk of reopening schools is greater in places with widespread community transmission.
- Schools need major modifications in order to reopen, including masks, disinfection, physical distancing protocols and a combination of in-person and virtual learning.
- A recent USC Center for Health Journalism webinar, produced under a NIHCM Foundation grant, discusses the latest developments in the debate over reopening schools.
School shutdowns in the spring have likely saved tens of thousands of lives from COVID-19, but closing schools harms children’s health, economic well-being and the academic achievement of children in the short and long-term.
- A McKinsey report shows how school shutdowns could exacerbate existing achievement gaps due to greater learning loss among low-income, Black and Hispanic students.
- When schools and daycares closed, 40% of parents lost income due to the increased child care responsibilities. 72% of parents said the government has not done enough to help with child care challenges; so, they have needed to improvise.
- Only 32% of companies that are returning to work have plans for employees’ child-care needsm even as many schools postpone reopening full time.
Programs are focusing on children and families’ needs in response to the pandemic:
- A program supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will introduce a mental health and well-being component to help children better manage emotions.
- The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation is a funder for a Chattanooga community partnership that will provide free home internet and equipment for kids in need.
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina supports an initiative that aims to improve children’s health and well-being by working with employers to create family friendly policies.
Housing Insecurity is a Growing Problem
The rental housing crisis was growing before the pandemic, leaving many of America’s renters vulnerable when coronavirus hit. Now a cliff is approaching for millions of American renters as eviction protections expire.
- Some experts warn that we could see 20 to 28 million people facing eviction between now and September.
- Black and Latinx families are projected to bear the brunt of the impending mass eviction crisis, with Black women facing the greatest threat of losing their homes.
The economic downturn and eviction crisis could also lead to an increase in the number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness, with one researcher projecting a 40-45% increase this year. This will add to the challenges of managing the spread of COVID-19, as experiencing homelessness can worsen existing health problems, cause new ones and make treating all conditions more challenging.
- NIHCM produced an infographic on the health challenges faced by the homeless and efforts to improve the health and well-being of these individuals, through social, economic and housing interventions.
- NIHCM convened a panel of experts from Independence Blue Cross Foundation, National Health Care for the Homeless Council and True Colors United to discuss the state of homelessness in the US and its critical impact on health and provided strategies to improve outcomes for homeless individuals.
A new study found that 81 million persons, living in 25 million homes, live in units that are unsuitable for isolation or quarantine. Compared to white individuals, Native American and Hispanic individuals are 2 to 3 times more likely to occupy unsuitable units, while Black and Asian persons are 1.7 times more likely.
COVID-19's Ongoing Impact on Mental Health & SUD
The pandemic continues to impact mental health and 53% of adults now say that stress and worry related to the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health.
- Women, young adults, Black adults, and those who have had a financial impact are more likely to report that the pandemic has affected their mental health.
- Proximity to coronavirus deaths heightens levels of concern for Black Americans.19% of Black adults say that they know someone who died of COVID-19, 8 points more than white adults.
People with substance use disorders (SUD) are at greater risk of worse COVID-19 outcomes and there has been an increase in relapses due to the stressors of the pandemic.
- The pandemic is worsening the opioid crisis as it increases risk factors for addiction, including isolation, despair, and economic hardship. More people have been overdosing alone and are unable to access care.
- While it is too soon to have definitive data on the pandemic’s full impact on SUD, early numbers are concerning. Drug overdose deaths increased by more than 11% in the first four months of 2020 compared to last year.
- Alcohol sales have risen by more than 25% since the beginning of the pandemic.
- Parents with children doing distance learning at home are drinking more than people without children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interventions are necessary to support individuals struggling with mental illness and SUD:
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts announced a set of new initiatives to ensure access to mental health services, such as expanding access to telehealth.
- A new report by the Center for Connected Health Policy, supported by the NIHCM Foundation, examines policies that affect FQHCs’ use of telehealth for SUD and considers the impact of recent but temporary COVID-19 changes for telehealth.
- A recent Alliance for Health Policy webinar, supported by the NIHCM Foundation, discussed the impact of COVID-19 on individuals’ mental health and their access to care.
- The CDC has gathered resources and suggestions to help those who are struggling with substance and alcohol use during the pandemic.
- A notable solution would be asking contact tracers to screen for mental illness and SUD, and make appropriate treatment referrals.
- NIHCM convened a panel of experts to share efforts to address the growing rate of substance use and outline strategies mitigating the increased burden on individuals, society and the health care system in the time of COVID-19.