Community Survey Finds Racial Disparities on Coronavirus Impact and Response

Interview with Mark Abraham, executive director of Data Haven, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Connecticut was one of the hardest hit states in America during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, mostly because of its proximity to New York, which has the highest COVID-19 death toll in the nation. As in other states, Black and Latinx residents as well as nursing home residents were disproportionately affected by the virus. However, by June, the numbers of infections and deaths significantly decreased, and the state started cautiously to open up.

Data Haven is a nonprofit Connecticut organization that gathers and interprets data which supplements information collected by federal, state and local governments and agencies. The group seeks to capture more local level data that often isn’t represented in other surveys, with the goal of discovering what people are most concerned about that determines their health, happiness, sense of community and overall well-being.

In August 2020, Data Haven conducted a scientific, random survey of 1,100 adults in the state, asking people about their experiences around the COVID-19 pandemic. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Mark Abraham, executive director of Data Haven, about some of the survey’s important findings, how that data is being used, and why he believes other states across the U.S. could benefit from collecting similar data.

MARK ABRAHAM: So one area that’s relevant currently is the COVID-19 pandemic and how residents think they will fare as things go on. So some of the questions we asked on the survey if people are going out to work if they feel their employer is taking appropriate safety precautions and also general questions — if people feel they can get the care they need if they or someone in their family gets sick. We see a couple of differences that are important. Overall, people are relatively mixed in how confident they feel about their safety. Some people are very confident, some people are very concerned. But we do see a pattern that adults who are leaving the home more to go out to work are more concerned and adults who are in the communities that were more affected by the virus in terms of higher deaths and hospitalizations are much more concerned. They report loss of friends and family or have had friends hospitalized. They are reporting that they are not as confident about how things are going to progress from here. I think that’s an important factor to consider when we’re designing interventions around health, trying to address what those concerns are.

MELINDA TUHUS: Can you talk about the data you got regarding mask-wearing?

MARK ABRAHAM: I think it’s an experience that all of us have, when we leave the home or take the bus to work, some people are wearing masks and some aren’t. People reacted when they saw that some groups are very likely, or almost always, wearing masks. Other groups are much more mixed, particularly white men in Connecticut report they are wearing masks at a lower rate than other groups. Eighty-one percent of Connecticut residents report they are wearing them as much as possible. But it varies. It’s 95 percent among African Americans, so very high there. It’s higher among women, but if you look at men and younger adults, the rates are below 80 percent. That’s something to bring up the issue and try to educate and reinforce to groups that are wearing masks that it’s important to continue to do that, that it’s something that’s helping everyone get through this.

MELINDA TUHUS: Mark Abraham, did anything surprise you in the data?

MARK ABRAHAM: It was interesting, maybe not surprising, but when we asked people how often they leave their house to go to work, we found that adults who are earning $100,000 or more, they are mostly still staying home. This is as of August. They’re not leaving their home at all to go to work, whereas adults earning less than $100,000 are basically leaving their home every day to go to work. So that’s a huge difference in people’s experience of the pandemic. And that breaks down along racial lines too, with most black and Latino adults reporting they leave home to go to work very often, whereas most white adults are mostly staying home.

MELINDA TUHUS: How is the data from this survey being used?

MARK ABRAHAM: We’re seeing it used for planning in a government setting or foundation setting, local health care; basically thinking about where to divert resources, like which programs to expand and where to expand them. So I think it’s informative to have concrete numbers about where the areas of concern are — which communities are more impacted by job loss. Concerns about the vaccine are really high profile because of the need to get the flu vaccine out, maybe more than we have in past years. We know from the data that certain communities are much less likely to get a flu vaccine, so it’s helpful to have this additional data that looks at the COVID vaccine and if people trust the health care system, the local government and topics like that in order to direct funding to where it’s most needed around the flu vaccine and eventually around the other vaccine, if one becomes available.

MELINDA TUHUS: Do you think it would be good if other states did this kind of survey and got this kind of information?

MARK ABRAHAM: Yeah, I think they would find it useful. We think, especially in the context of tracking it over time. We’ve done the survey in the past and we will continue doing it in the future. So being able to monitor how things are changing is particularly helpful looking at the state of communities.

For more information, visit Data Haven at CTDataHaven.org.

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