Four months ago, no one could have imagined that a pandemic would bring the world to a grinding halt. Now, in the past week, over 5 million Americans have filed for unemployment and there are over 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States alone. And while the crisis hasn’t reached its worst yet, the virus has already affected everyone.
In a time when accurate reporting is needed more than ever, even journalists are being challenged. Despite Facebook pledging $100 million to help local news outlets, publishers are expected to take a big hit by the economic fallout as advertisers reduce spending. Furthermore, given the danger of face-to-face contact, journalists must also take health precautions, working remotely if possible.
All of this makes it easy to wonder whether some groups are being overlooked, despite them being at significant risk. After all, it’s much safer to write an article about possible long-term effects of COVID-19 from one’s own home than to go to a neighborhood, household, or hospital and cover a live story. But if that speculation rings true, then who are the groups that might be unnoticed or neglected?
One such group is more intuitive than the rest. In a safety crisis where staying home is the best way to stay safe, it’s a no-brainer that individuals suffering from homelessness are particularly at risk. However, despite the risk that homeless communities face, there has been relatively little mainstream media coverage about the danger they are facing.
While few journalists have written about the impact COVID-19 will have on homeless communities, several have already asserted that the disease will worsen pre-existing inequality issues. Along with adding extra economic strain on individuals who are already impoverished, the disease is most likely to harm those in lower socioeconomic status. Studies show that low income is associated with higher rates of chronic health conditions, and—according to the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—these health conditions can make the coronavirus up to 10 times as deadly.
But in comparison to low-income individuals, who hold serious health risks of COVID-19, the danger that the homeless community faces is significantly worse. One study in Boston found that persons suffering from homelessness visit the emergency room nearly four times more often than other low-income individuals. And while the homeless community is more prone to becoming injured, the majority of adults that experience homelessness are also already likely to suffer from more than one health issue, which can range from mental illness and addiction to hypertension and diabetes.
All of these predispositions, combined with the fact that many individuals suffering from homelessnes live together in shelters or on the street, means that homeless communities risk devastation if one individual becomes infected with COVID-19. In Las Vegas, for example, the Catholic Charities’ homeless shelter was recently left rushing to find a home for 500 homeless people after a resident tested positive. But rather than housing individuals in empty hotels (which the city of Austin elected to do on Friday, March 27), the city moved them to an outdoor parking lot with boxes spray painted 6-feet away from each other. Though there are no other positive cases reported from the makeshift shelter yet, this situation exemplifies the precarious position of homeless communities across the country.
Homeless communities constitute one area of concern, but there are other endangered groups also being neglected or unnoticed. Elsewhere in the world, many refugees find themselves in worse situations, cramped inside of a densely-populated camp. Timothy Mclaughlin, a contributing writer at The Atlantic, describes the situation on the southeastern coast of Bangladesh, where a collection of 35 refugee camps house nearly 855,000 refugees. With poor hygiene and a lack of medical centers, Mclaughlin calls the camps “tinderboxes” for what could be potentially unfathomable disaster. With cramped spaces of up to 70,000 people per square kilometer, it may only take a few cases of COVID-19 to cause extreme devastation.
While there aren’t cramped refugee camps in the United States, immigrants in detention centers share the same fears of outbreak. Several detainees have already tested positive for COVID-19, and health and immigration officials have expressed concern that ICE isn’t prepared to properly handle the pending crisis. And like the homeless communities, many of these detainees have pre-existing health issues and compromised immune systems, making them particularly vulnerable in the event of a virus flare-up.
Nevertheless, media coverage of homeless communities, refugees, and ICE detainees seems to remain auxiliary at the moment. With a constant barrage of news about the virus’ spread, it’s perplexing that society’s most vulnerable face an impending disaster that is relatively unnoticed. Weakened by preceding health issues and unable to take the necessary precautions, these groups face the harsh reality that a single COVID-19 diagnosis could become fatal for hundreds. Going forward, these issues need to be addressed timely and comprehensively: Without adequate supplies in detention camps and without proper care for homeless communities, society’s weakest may be those who suffer the most.