UNC group shows coronavirus impact is unequal across NC


CHAPEL HILL — The coronavirus pandemic has deepened health and economic disparities in North Carolina along the lines of race and geography, according to a research team from the University of North Carolina.

During the online presentation of its report Thursday, the team, made up of public policy students and recent graduates, also said North Carolina schools are not well-prepared to support students in the coming school year.

The report was divided into health, economy, government assistance, the unequal impact of the pandemic and public education moving forward. Generally, the report found that Black and Hispanic or Latino North Carolinians were disproprotionately impacted by the effects of the coronavirus. More Hispanic and Latino households have lost employment income compared to any other racial or ethnic group in North Carolina, the group said, and Latino renters have the highest rates of not being able to pay rent and lowest rates of reported confidence in their ability to make rent since April 2020, according to a 2020 U.S. Census Bureau housing survey.

The group found the both Black and Hispanic or Latino North Carolinians were more likely than white people in North Carolina to experience housing insecurity or report feelings of anxiety, nervousness and stress.

“Attempts to buffer the financial impact of this pandemic on households have not reached all groups equally,” said Valerie Lundeen, a student on the research team.

In May, the group found unemployment rates were higher in North Carolina than at the height of the Great Recession, with the western half of the state seeing disproportionate increases from February to April. For example, Durham-Chapel Hill’s April unemployment rate was 9.56% while Asheville’s was 16.22%, according to data from the NC Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More low-income households lost employment compared to wealthier households — with more Black households using their stimulus checks for expenses, such as paying for rent, utilities and food, than white households, and more than a third of Hispanic or Latino households never receiving a stimulus payment at all.

The probability of death once infected with COVID-19 was higher in counties with greater concentrations of animal farms or meat processing plants, and also tended to have higher poverty rates, the group reported based on data from the NC Department of Health and Human Services Dashboard and the US Census American Community 2018 survey. Many rural areas had scarcer resources, where the report said many Hispanic and Latino households live. Generally, the group said urban areas followed stay-at-home orders more closely than rural areas, though they said methods used to come to this conclusion — such as analyzing data from Apple Maps to see how far or often people were driving once orders went in to effect — could be partially explained by factors unique to rural places, such as the distance required to drive many places.

The report found that counties with the highest concentrations of COVID-19 cases — communities also more likely to have higher poverty rates and greater rates of food and housing insecurity — were largely the least prepared to support students when classes resume this fall.

The group determined this by analyzing data on school nurses, school counselors and school psychologists in a given county and comparing those numbers to nationally recommended ratios. The team’s Support Index scale ranged from 1.5, indicating more support personnel, to 26.6, indicating less support personnel.

Regarding North Carolina’s county school districts, the group found:

  • 54% failed to meet recommendation ration for school nurses; the recommended ratio is 750 students per nurse
  • 91% failed to meet recommended ratios for guidance counselors; the recommended ratio is 250 students per counselor
  • 98% failed to meet recommendation rations for school psychologists; the recommended ratio is 500 students per psychologist

“Regardless of in-person or remote instruction in the coming school year, students will need unique support for their academic, emotional, and behavioral wellbeing — support that was lacking even before the pandemic,” the group said in a summary of its findings.

More of the report’s findings can be accessed at: publicpolicy.unc.edu/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-north-carolina.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com.