Social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States

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The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has had far-reaching consequences in the country that go beyond the spread of the disease itself and efforts to quarantine it, including political, cultural, and social implications.

Illnesses and deaths[edit]

A year into the pandemic, a half-million Americans (1 out of every 670 Americans) had died of COVID-19.[1]

Many people are affected by grief and loss. By the time a half-million Americans had died, one-third of Americans said they personally knew someone who had died this way.[1] One researcher concluded that, on average, nine close relatives survived to grieve each person who died of COVID-19.[2] By February 2021, about 40,000 U.S. children under the age of 18 had lost at least one parent to the disease.[3]

In addition to the loss of life, the disease can also cause long-term illness, the effects of which may be harder to calculate. Some COVID survivors are left with long-term symptoms such as fatigue, confusion, headache, stomachache, shortness of breath, and loss of sense of smell. Prolonged manifestations of the disease are informally called "long COVID" and the sufferers are called "long-haulers."[4]

Lockdowns[edit]

States, territories, and counties that issued a stay-at-home order:
  Came into effect between March 15 and 21
  Came into effect between March 22 and 28
  Came into effect between March 29 and April 4
  Came into effect between April 5 and 11
  No order ever issued
Full map including municipalities

To encourage residents to remain in their homes in order to help suppress the spread of Covid 19, most U.S. states (either state-wide or phased in on a county-by-county basis) began to impose "stay-at-home orders" from mid-March 2020 onward. These orders typically restricted any public "gatherings" and mandated the closure of entertainment and recreation venues (including bars, casinos, fitness facilities, theaters), dine-in restaurants (although take-out and delivery service could still be offered), and other "non-essential" retail businesses. Certain types of businesses were allowed to remain open (subject to social distancing guidelines), including food stores (such as grocery stores), pharmacies, financial institutions, critical infrastructure, and mass media. In some states, hotels were also ordered to close.[5][6] Several states also set up police checkpoints at their borders.[7]

These orders encouraged residents to stay home as much as possible unless they are conducting an essential business (such as grocery shopping or medical care for themselves or family members), recreational exercise, or a job that cannot be performed via telecommuting.[5] The state of New York mandated that non-essential employees of any business work from home.[5]

By April 2, about 90% of the U.S. population was under some sort of restriction.[8] After implementing social distancing and stay-at-home orders, many states were able to sustain an effective transmission rate ("Rt") of less than one.[9]

Reopening[edit]

On March 24, Donald Trump expressed a target of lifting restrictions "if it's good" by April 12, the Easter holiday, for "packed churches all over our country".[10] However, a survey of prominent economists by the University of Chicago indicated that abandoning an economic lock-down prematurely would do more economic damage than maintaining it.[11] The New York Times said, "There is, however, a widespread consensus among economists and public health experts that lifting the restrictions would impose huge costs in additional lives lost to the virus—and deliver little lasting benefit to the economy."[12] On March 29, Trump extended the federal physical distancing recommendations until the end of April.[13]

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine says employers must redesign workplaces to keep workers six feet apart, or let them work from home.[14] Connecticut requires employers who are open to keep workers six feet apart, deliver products to customers at curbside or by delivery when possible, protect workers with barriers such as Plexiglas, prohibit sharing equipment or desks and if possible have employees eat and take breaks alone in their cars or at their workstations.[15] Commutes by mass transit, where it is not possible to stay six feet apart, may need to be replaced by cars or dispersed workplaces, including homes.[16] If colleges reopen in person, many will lack large enough classrooms to keep students six feet apart, but if they stay online and lose in-person interactions, students may transfer to less expensive online specialist colleges.[17]

Poland's president Andrzej Duda was the first foreign leader to travel to the White House since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.[18]

In late April 2020, pressure increased on states to remove economic and personal restrictions. On April 19 the Trump administration released a three-phase advisory plan for states to follow, called "Opening Up America Again".[19] Protests calling for an end to restrictions were held in more than a dozen states.[20] Governors in several states took steps to re-open some businesses the last week of April,[21] even though they did not meet the benchmarks set out in the federal guidelines.[22] Trump alternately encouraged[23] and discouraged the reopening actions.[24] After several meat processing plants were temporarily closed due to coronavirus cases among plant workers, President Trump used the Defense Production Act to order that open plants remain open, and that closed plants re-open with healthy workers.[25]

The CDC prepared detailed guidelines for businesses, public transit, restaurants, religious entities, schools, and other public places who may wish to reopen. In early May, the guidelines were edited down, however the original seven pages were provided to the Associated Press.[26] Six flow charts were ultimately published on May 15,[27] and a 60-page set of guidelines was released without comment on May 20, weeks after many states had already emerged from lockdowns.[28]

On June 8, 2020, The New York Times published results of its survey in which 511 epidemiologists were asked "when they expect to resume 20 activities of daily life". Slightly over half the doctors surveyed responding that they expected to stop "routinely wearing a face covering" in one year or more.[29]

A 69-page document marked "For Internal Use Only" obtained by The New York Times classified the reopening of districts, universities, and individual schools as high risk. The document surfaced after experts warned of high risk in reopening schools. It is not yet clear whether the document has been reviewed by President Trump or not.[30]

Educational impact[edit]

Closed sign at a school in San Jose, California, May 2020

As of April 10, 2020, most American public and private schools—at least 124,000—had closed nationwide, affecting at least 55.1 million students.[31] By April 22, school buildings had been ordered or recommended to be closed for the remainder of the academic year in 39 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia.[31] As schools shift education to online learning, there are concerns about student access to necessary technology, absenteeism, and accommodations for special needs students.[32] School systems also looked to adjust grading scales and graduation requirements to mitigate the disruption caused by the unprecedented closures.[33]

To ensure poor students continued to receive lunches while schools were closed, many states and school districts arranged for "grab-and-go" lunch bags or used school bus routes to deliver meals to children.[34] To provide legal authority for such efforts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture waived several school lunch program requirements.[35]

Many higher educational institutions canceled classes and closed dormitories in response to the outbreak, including all members of the Ivy League,[36] and many other public and private universities across the country.[37] Many universities also expanded the use of pass/fail grading for the Spring 2020 semester.[38]

A school employee and parent in Des Moines, Iowa meet about school registration through plexiglass, July 2020

Due to the disruption to the academic year caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education approved a waiver process, allowing states to opt-out of standardized testing required under the Every Student Succeeds Act.[39] In addition, the College Board eliminated traditional face-to-face Advanced Placement exams in favor of an online exam that can be taken at home.[40] The College Board also cancelled SAT testing in March and May in response to the pandemic.[41] Similarly, April ACT exams were rescheduled for June 2020.[42]

The Department of Education also authorized limited student loan relief, allowing borrowers to suspend payments for at least two months without accruing interest.[39]

In July 2020, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that she intended to have all American schools open for in-person classes for the 2020-21 school year.[43]

There are broader effects of school closures beyond the immediate crisis. For instance, family choice around in school education is starkly contrasted across race. As of the beginning of the school year in New York City, with 1.1 million school children, 84% of white public-school parents say their child will attend school in-person if possible, compared to 63% of Latinx parents and just 34% of Black parents.[44] Caregivers with greater money, mobility, and access are increasingly withdrawing from, rather than investing in, the “commons” of school and public supports. Many white high-income families are withdrawing from public education, forming private-pay pods ($30,000 per year) or moving. Other families are withdrawing from public education and placing children in religious school ($8,000+ per year).[45]

Many caregivers have left the workforce, facing no other options amid the breakdown of public safety nets.[46] Amid the health risks of offering school; the risks of isolation, disconnection, and educational regression of school disruption; this risk of inequitable access is also critical. Parental choices across race and income pose risk of increased segregation, disparate outcomes, growing inequity, and future public disinvestment in a longer-term post-COVID landscape.[47]

One significant outbreak during the Fall 2020 semester occurred at the State University of New York at Oneonta. Residence halls reopened on August 17, and within two months there were over 700 coronavirus cases among the student body, as a result of which the university president resigned.[48]

Public transportation[edit]

May 5: The New York City Subway began planned overnight shutdowns, the first in its 115-year history, to conduct cleaning.

Several of the largest mass transit operators in the U.S. have reduced service in response to lower demand caused by work from home policies and self-quarantines. The loss of fares and sales tax, a common source of operating revenue, is predicted to cause long-term effects on transit expansion and maintenance.[49] The American Public Transportation Association issued a request for $13 billion in emergency funding from the federal government to cover lost revenue and other expenses incurred by the pandemic.[50] In mid-April it was reported that demand for transit service was down by an average of 75 percent nationwide, with figures of 85% in San Francisco and 60% in Philadelphia.[51] Many localities reported an increase in bicycling as residents sought socially distant means of getting around.[52]

Prisons[edit]

Protest in Columbus, Ohio calling for release of low-risk prisoners because of COVID-19 risks, May 2020

This pandemic has even put tremendous pressure on the current correctional system by adding the responsibility of trying to keep fellow staff and inmates from not spreading Covid 19. As the virus began to spread throughout multiple regions in the U.S it affected correction facilities as well such as inside the prisons. Some states with the help of local jurisdictions began to release prisoners who were considered vulnerable to the virus.[53]  The most at risk inmates cost prisons across the country a lot of money due to Covid 19 most were the elderly inmates with preexisting conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and asthma .[53]

To reduce transmission, the Federal Bureau of Prisons started a near-lockdown for all prisoners on April 1, for at least 14 days.[54] Part of this push has involved a call to reduce prison population size.[55] So far prisons are having trouble with crowding and lack of sanitation measures contribute to the risk of contracting diseases in prisons and jails.[56] As a result, of the quality of treatment of prisoners and employees have been affected for the worse. There have been protests around many prisons in different countries due to the frustration of contracting COVID-19 due to conditions in the prisons.[56]

So far there have been multiple Covid 19 outbreaks. One incident was in Bledsoe Correctional Complex in Pikeville, Tennessee. Most of the prisoners who were tested were asymptomatic, and the facility stated it has taken more steps to prevent the outbreak from growing.[57] The main cause of the outbreak of Bledsoe Correctional Complex was that the people working in prisons brought the virus into the prisons affecting 500 prisoners, This is a main concern the correction system is facing all throughout the country.[57]

Immigration detention[edit]

More than 38,000 people were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the time of the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States.[58] ICE's response to the outbreak in detention facilities has been widely characterized as substandard and dangerous.[59] Detained people have reported that they are being forced into unsafe, unsanitary, and harmful conditions.[60] Serious irregularities in ICE's testing data have been reported,[61] while ICE has blocked coronavirus testing information at its facilities from being released to the public.[62] The American Civil Liberties Union referred to the COVID-19 pandemic in U.S. immigration detention as "an unquestionable public health disaster".[61]

Xenophobia and racism[edit]

Chinatown in Houston faced a drop in customers after people falsely and maliciously spread rumors online of an outbreak of the coronavirus.[63]

There have been incidents of xenophobia and racism against Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans.[64][65][66] The U.S. Federal Protective Service and the FBI's New York office have reported that members of white supremacist groups are encouraging one another, if they contract the virus, to spread it to Jews, "nonwhite" people, and police officers through personal interactions and bodily fluids like saliva.[67][68]

Racial disparities[edit]

Donald Trump listens to Michigan State Representative Karen Whitsett talk about her recovery from the COVID-19. Black Americans in Michigan and elsewhere have suffered from significantly higher rates of infection and mortality than White Americans.

ProPublica conducted an analysis of the racial composition of COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, dating through the morning of April 3. They noted that African Americans comprised nearly half the county's cases and 22 of its 27 deaths.[69]

Similar trends have been seen in regions with sizable African American populations, especially in Deep South states such as Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana (which reported on April 6 that 70% of its reported deaths had involved African Americans); in Michigan (33% of cases and 41% of deaths as of April 6); in the city of Richmond, Virginia (48% of the city population, 62% of cases, and 100% of its eight deaths as of April 15)[70] and the city of Chicago, Illinois (1,824 of its 4,680 confirmed cases and 72% of deaths as of April 5).[71][72]

It has been acknowledged that African Americans were more likely to have poor living conditions (including dense urban environments and poverty), employment instability, chronic comorbidities influenced by these conditions, and little to no health insurance coverage—factors which can all exacerbate its impact.[73][74][75] It is also noted that Black Americans are in many states more likely to be "essential workers", people working in jobs that can't work from home during stay-at-home orders. Which puts them at higher exposure to the virus.[75]

The CDC has not yet released national data on coronavirus cases based on race; following calls by Democratic lawmakers and the Congressional Black Caucus, the CDC told The Hill it planned to release data on racial composition of cases.[76][77]

Aid delivery to Hopi students in First Mesa, Arizona, August 2020

Additionally, the Navajo Nation had the highest rate of infection in the United States, surpassing New York state late May.[78]

On July 20, the Strike for Black Lives was held, with organizers citing racial disparities during the pandemic as a cause of the strike.[79]

In Houston, as well as elsewhere in Texas, Hispanic Americans have been heavily impacted by COVID-19.[80] This is in part because a lot of them are in essential work, much like Black Americans, and live in traditionally multi-generational households, language barriers, and them having low percentage health insurance compared to other ethnicities in the U.S.[81] Additionally, a sizable amount of Hispanics are undocumented immigrants and fear for their immigration status, especially under the Trump presidency which promises hardline immigration laws make it harder for them to seek medical care.[82]

Additionally, Filipino Americans have been impacted perhaps by COVID-19 more than any ethnic community in the United States, in part because of a high percentage of healthcare workers, as many Filipino-Americans are nurses in critical care and emergency rooms, while also making up a higher percentage of essential workers than Blacks and Hispanics.[83][84][85]

Language access among limited English proficiency groups has been a challenge across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. Minority status and language proficiency were found to be leading factors in the incidence of infection and mortality, according to a study published in JAMA.[86]. Even though Spanish use in major metro areas in the U.S. has been on the decline, it is still spoken at home by more than 37 million Latinos in the U.S.[87] The Coronavirus Language Access Act, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate in August 2020[88] but not passed, has been introduced anew[89] by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-N.Y.). In order to provide translations of COVID-19 related communications, the act would provide $200 million in funding to agencies required to increase language access services. The act would also require the CDC to create a hotline staffed with trained interpreters who can share information on the virus and vaccines to people with limited English proficiency.[90]

Aside from these direct health inequities, broader social inequities are a growing effect of the COVID crisis. For instance, amid school closures families are grappling with layered risks of virus risk, income loss, grief, food insecurity, unhealthy environments, learning delay, isolation, lack of information, and more - crumbling or absent public systems risk a new white flight and entrenched segregation for years to come.[45]

Event cancellations[edit]

Early 2020[edit]

Technology conferences such as Apple Inc.'s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC),[91] E3 2020,[92] Facebook F8, Google I/O and Cloud Next,[93] and Microsoft's MVP Summit[94][95] were either canceled or replaced with internet streaming events.

On February 21, Verizon pulled out of an RSA conference, along with AT&T and IBM.[96] On February 29, the American Physical Society cancelled its annual March Meeting, scheduled for March 2–6 in Denver, Colorado, even though many of the more than 11,000 physicist participants had already arrived and participated in the day's pre-conference events.[97] On March 6, the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas, was cancelled after the city government declared a "local disaster" and ordered conferences to shut down for the first time in 34 years.[98] The cancellation was not covered by insurance.[99] In 2019, 73,716 people attended the conferences and festivals, directly spending $200 million and ultimately boosting the local economy by $356 million, or four percent of the annual revenue of the region's hospitality and tourism economic sectors.[100]

On March 12, a Post Malone concert at Denver's Pepsi Center proceeded as scheduled, drawing a sellout-crowd of 20,000, likely the largest enclosed gathering in the U.S. before widespread lockdowns.[101]

Ice arena closed for performances

After the cancellations of the Ultra Music Festival in Miami and SXSW in Austin, speculation began to grow about the Coachella festival set to begin on April 10 in the desert in Indio, California.[102] The annual festival, which has attracted some 125,000 people over two consecutive weekends, is insured only in the event of a force majeure cancellation such as one ordered by local or state government officials. Estimates on an insurance payout range from $150 million to $200 million.[103]

Ongoing[edit]

Throughout 2020, live music events continued to be scheduled and then canceled in reaction to COVID-19 surges, putting the music industry in crisis. In its recent third-quarter earnings report for 2020, Live Nation Entertainment reported a 95% revenue drop industry-wide.[104] According to a report by research and trade publication named Pollstar, the music industry can lose up to $9 billion in 2020. Working musicians are struggling to get by, thus, venues continue to close. Before working musicians could get by with selling records, however, with streaming services today, working musicians rely heavily on touring for income.

Ticketmaster is experimenting with viable options when reopening live music events such as requiring proof of a Coronavirus vaccine or a negative Coronavirus test. The framework plan could work through the Ticketmaster digital app and third-party health companies and customers would be required to get tested approximately 24 to 72 hours before a concert.[105] When presenting a digital ticket, both the confirmation of ticket purchase and proof of a negative test result will be shown before entering the event. No medical records are said to be stored from each participant but serve as a method of proof that the individual is safe to attend the event.

In Germany, researchers have conducted a study on indoor concert events to test the safety risks of virus transmission. Analysis of an indoor concert staged by scientists in August suggests that the impact of such events on the spread of the coronavirus is “low to very low” as long as organizers ensure adequate ventilation, strict hygiene protocols, and limited capacity, according to the German researchers who conducted the study.[106] Although the study by German Researches was received with great optimism by event organizers, there is much more studying that needs to be conducted before giving the green light to opening concert venues

Media[edit]

Publishing[edit]

The scale of the COVID-19 outbreak has prompted several major publishers to temporarily disable their paywalls on related articles, including Bloomberg News, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Seattle Times.[107][108] Many local newspapers were already severely struggling before the crisis.[108] Several alt weekly newspapers in affected metropolitan areas, including The Stranger in Seattle and Austin Chronicle, have announced layoffs and funding drives due to lost revenue. Advertisements concerning public events and venues accounted for a majority of revenue for alt-weekly newspapers, which was disrupted by the cancellation of large public gatherings.[108][109] Online advertisements also dropped to avoid running ads next to coronavirus coverage.[110]

Film[edit]

Theater in Seattle announcing, "This Is Just Intermission. We'll See You Soon", May 2020

Most U.S. cinema chains, where allowed to continue operating, reduced the seating capacity of each show time by half to minimize the risk of spreading the virus between patrons.[111] Audience limits, as well as mandatory and voluntary closure of cinemas in some areas, led to the lowest total North American box office sales since October 1998.[112] On March 16, numerous theater chains temporarily closed their locations nationwide.[113] A number of Hollywood film companies have suspended production and delayed the release of some films.[114][115]

Television[edit]

Many television programs began to suspend production in mid-March due to the pandemic.[116][117] News programs and most talk shows have largely remained on-air, but with changes to their production to incorporate coverage of the pandemic, and adhere to CDC guidelines on physical distancing and the encouragement of remote work.[118][119][120] Quarantine and remote work efforts, as well as interest in updates on the pandemic, have resulted in a larger potential audience for television broadcasters—especially for news programs and news channels. Nielsen estimated that by March 11 television usage had increased by 22% week-over-week. It was expected that streaming services would see an increase in usage, while potential economic downturns associated with the pandemic could accelerate the market trend of cord cutting.[121][122][123]

The Hollywood Reporter observed gains in average viewership for some programs between March 9 and April 2, with the top increases including The Blacklist (31.2% gain in average audience since March 9), and 20/20 (30.8%).[124] These effects have also been seen on syndicated programs,[125] and the Big Three networks' daytime soap operas.[126] WarnerMedia reported that HBO Now saw a spike in usage, and the most viewed titles included documentary Ebola: The Doctors' Story and the 2011 film Contagion for their resonance with the pandemic.[127]

Sports [edit]

Players shooting in an emptied stadium
The NBA was the first major sports league to suspend operations, including clearing out this March 11 game between the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings.

The 2020 BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at Indian Wells was postponed on March 8, 2020, marking the first major U.S. sports cancellation attributed to the outbreak.[128][129]

In compliance with restrictions on large gatherings, the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL), Golden State Warriors (NBA), and San Jose Sharks (NHL) announced their intent to play home games behind closed doors, with no spectators and only essential staff present.[130][131][132][133] These proposals were soon rendered moot, when suspension of games for various time periods were announced by almost all professional sports leagues in the United States on March 11 onward, including the National Basketball Association (which had a player announced as having tested positive),[134] National Hockey League,[135] Major League Baseball,[136] Major League Soccer, Major League Rugby,[137] and National Volleyball Association.[138][139]

College athletics competitions were similarly cancelled by schools, conferences and the NCAA—which cancelled all remaining championships for the academic year on March 12. This also resulted in the first-ever cancellation of the NCAA's popular "March Madness" men's basketball tournament (which had been scheduled to begin the following week) in its 81-year history.[134][140][141]

The NFL considered playing with helmets with installed filters.[142]

Health insurance[edit]

Millions of Americans lost their health insurance after losing their jobs.[143][144][145][146] The Independent reported that Families USA "found that the spike in uninsured Americans – adding to an estimated 84 million people who are already uninsured or underinsured – is 39 per cent higher than any previous annual increase, including the most recent surge at the height of the recession between 2008 and 2009 when nearly 4 million non-elderly Americans lost insurance."[147]

Religious services[edit]

A chaplain at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska conducts a virtual mass via phone.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many churches, mosques, synagogues and temples have suspended religious services to avoid spreading the disease.[148] Some religious organizations offered radio, television and online services, while others have offered drive-in services.[149] Despite the pandemic, many American religious organizations continue to operate their food pantries. Churches offered bags filled with food and toilet paper rolls for families in need.[150] Many mosques have closed for prayers but continue to run their food banks.[151][152][153]

The National Cathedral of the United States, which belongs to the Episcopal Church, donated more than 5,000 N95 surgical masks to hospitals of Washington D.C., which were in shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic.[154] Other churches, such as the Church of the Highlands, an evangelical Christian megachurch, have offered free COVID-19 tests in their parking lots.[155]

Some state orders against large gatherings, such as in Ohio and New York, specifically exempt religious organizations.[156] Colorado Springs Fellowship Church insists it has a constitutional right to defy a state closure order.[157] Evangelical college Liberty University of Lynchburg, Virginia, moved its classes online but called its 5,000 back to campus despite Governor Ralph Northam's order to close all non-essential businesses.[158] On March 13, 2020, Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church issued a statement that would be updated no later than the start of Holy Week, which directed "the local churches of any size and other ministries in the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to suspend in-person worship and other gatherings of more than 10 people for the next two weeks."[159]

In the state of Kansas, the Democratic governor, Laura Kelly responded to a prime source of spread of the disease by banning religious services attended by more than 10 people.[160] In April, Texas churches were meeting while following social distancing guidelines after Texas Governor Greg Abbott joined more than 30 governors who had already deemed religious services "essential".[161] A federal appeals court ruled that Kentucky churches must be permitted to hold drive-in church services.[162]

Opioid crisis[edit]

In April 2020, Politico reported that the federal government's top addiction and mental health experts were warning that the coronavirus pandemic could derail the progress the country has made addressing the opioid crisis because such efforts have been "sidelined" by the government's response to COVID-19. The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, said, "I think we're going to see deaths climb again. We can't afford to focus solely on Covid."[163] In January, the Trump administration announced that opioid overdose deaths in 2018 were down four percent from the previous year. This was the first drop in the statistic in nearly 30 years.[163] According to Portland ABC affiliate station KATU, "The coronavirus has been a crushing blow for the addiction recovery community, specifically, when it comes to social distancing, advocates say."[164]

Foster care[edit]

References[edit]

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