The coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing shutdown will significantly impact every Iowan. Plans must be put in place to ensure basic services are sustained to serve and protect all people.
But as we reflect on the universality of this public health crisis, we also can recognize that not everyone will be affected the same. The most vulnerable among are at risk of suffering far more as our social and economic lives are put on hold for weeks or months.
The full scope of COVID-19’s destruction won’t be clear for a long time, but there are some things we already know.
We know that Iowans already experiencing income insecurity will struggle to stay stocked with household necessities such as food and cleaning supplies.
Even in normal times, a startling number of Iowans are living on the edge, one missed paycheck or medical bill away from a full-blown catastrophe. The latest data from the Iowa Policy Project show one-fifth of Iowa households don’t earn enough to cover basic expenses. A report from United Ways of Iowa found about half of Iowans could not afford an emergency expense of $400.
We know that for many victims of domestic violence, school and work are sanctuaries. When those places close and family members are forced to stay home together, children and intimate partners are subject to an increased risk of violence.
With social services stretched thin and government offices partially closed, victims who already have too few places to turn for help will find even fewer. And with people kept inside, there are fewer chances for onlookers to intervene, such as teachers noticing signs of physical abuse.
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We know there are thousands of children and adults in our state who receive vital care through school or service centers, most of which have been shut down with little indication of when they might reopen. Many of these Iowans do not have qualified caretakers at home, and many more don’t have the equipment and materials they need to meet their basic needs.
We know incarcerated people have a limited ability to take up the hygiene and social distancing recommendations we all are told to follow. While justice system officials are taking steps to decrease the inmate population, many still will be stuck in jail, susceptible to infection and unable to care for their families during a time of great uncertainty.
It should go without saying, but the elderly and immunocompromised are bearing an especially heavy burden. They do not have the luxury or privilege of dismissing public health warnings, as we have seen so many young and able-bodied people do. The stress and social isolation they experience on a normal day is exacerbated by the pandemic.
We also know people with chronic or emergency conditions unrelated to coronavirus will be negatively impacted. As the medical community is increasingly focused on responding to COVID-19, there are fewer resources available for other health care needs.
State and federal policymakers must keep all of these people top-of-mind as they develop response plans and economic stimulus packages. Already, we have seen disappointing signs of politics as usual in Congress — much ado about corporate bailouts and tax relief, but seemingly less concern about the Americans who already were barely scraping by.
Similar to the way we don’t have reliable, up-to-date data about the spread of coronavirus due to the lack of testing, we also lack basic information about the hardships Iowans are facing. Unemployment filings and assistance requests are lagging indicators, and they will barely scratch the surface of the great needs that exist in our communities.
This is a test of our collective compassion. The way we care for our most vulnerable neighbors will be the true test of our pandemic response.
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