Unprecedented. Historic. In uncharted waters.
Those are the descriptors used when we talk about the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on public and private entities and individuals.
Certainly, researchers will study the realms of healthcare and government response to a health crisis and learn from this period in history for years and decades to come.
But the issues to be scrutinized in a post-pandemic world stretch far beyond the needs of public health. Many social issues that were identified as problems before the impact of COVID-19 have been exacerbated in this new normal.
Housing issues that have long been discussed in the City of Dubuque rise to a new level of concern in this pandemic. Members of the Dubuque branch of the NAACP believe minorities, renters and low-income individuals will feel the impacts of this period far beyond others. The group has called for the city to fill a vacant assistant housing director position, despite a city hiring freeze; to hire a consultant to develop a housing “discrimination index” and move forward with fair-housing testing; and to set a deadline for an education, outreach and rebranding effort to encourage greater participation in the city’s housing voucher program by landlords.
Those requests come at a time when the city is facing its own COVID-19 ramifications; namely, a $16 million drop in revenue.
For those people who work in essential employment, a lack of childcare options can stymie the ability to work. Childcare has long been an issue in the Dubuque region, and the pandemic has only made matters worse. Data from the Iowa Department of Human Services shows that about 1,000 registered child-care centers have shut down since mid-March, and officials are concerned some of them won’t reopen. That could further increase unemployment.
Food insecurity has posed a critical challenge during the pandemic, particularly for the old and the young. With the absence of school-supplied breakfasts and lunches, the community has scrambled to fill the void, particularly in low-income areas where the vast majority of students receive free and reduced meals.
Local nonprofits stepped up to help supply meals to elderly people normally served by senior meal sites.
It’s clear that the affects of COVID-19 are felt most harshly by the most vulnerable populations. Already we can see that the economic impacts of the virus are being borne disproportionately by impoverished people.
The lessons of COVID-19 will inform future generations on myriad public health issues and the handling of a pandemic.
But this period also exposes other vulnerabilities in our communities, problems we knew existed that grew into bigger problems. City, county, state and federal officials must seek ways to address these social problems so as not to further expand issues of housing discrimination, childcare, food insecurity and other issues in the long term.