As COVID-19 cases continue to rise worldwide and some states begin to open up from lockdown, communities are forced to start thinking about a new normality and what that represents for various aspects of our daily lives. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted populations differently, we can expect long term effects to look quite different among underserved communities. 

For example, reports show that the number of African-American deaths due to COVID-19 are two times greater than expected based on their share of population. Hispanics/Latinos have a greater share of confirmed cases than expected in 42 states as well; there’s an evident racial disparity on how the pandemic is affecting communities. Health disparities due to lack of access among vulnerable populations, which include immigrants and refugees, might explain why these communities are being impacted more severely by COVID-19.  The long-term effect this will have on the refugee and immigrant population remains to be determined. 

 The current pandemic will impact vulnerable populations in more ways than one. To better understand what the “new normal”may  look like for refugees and immigrants specifically, we need to analyze multiple factors within these two populations that have changed since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.

This three-part blog will discuss the impact the pandemic is having and will continue to have on immigrants and refugees. It will focus on the economic, migratory and healthcare related repercussions on these specific groups.

 Healthcare Vulnerability 

 As with many medical conditions, refugee and immigrant populations are amongst the most vulnerable to COVID-19 due to the lack of access to healthcare. Exclusion of undocumented immigrants from the Affordable Care Act leaves 7.1 million without health insurance; exacerbating the healthcare inequality among immigrants. This large population of uninsured undocumented immigrants makes up 27% of the total U.S. uninsured population.

 Not only are immigrants and refugees sorely unprotected, but they are also heavily exposed to the virus and at high risk of contagion. Nearly six million immigrants are working in frontline occupations, like healthcare, food production and transportation. Furthermore, many immigrants and refugees reside in high-density cities with high incidences of COVID-19 cases and present high prevalence of risk-factors like Diabetes and obesity which have been linked to a higher severity and mortality rates associated with COVID-19 infection. 

 Since February 2020 when the “Public Charge” rule came into effect many social programs like the Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP) have seen an increase in voluntary disenrollment. Many immigrants have reportedly feared that receiving these benefits might affect their chances of eventually obtaining legal status. Disenrollment from these programs will lead to a restriction in access to healthy food options which in turn negatively affects the nutritional security of the community and aggravates the risk of developing Diabetes and other comorbidities. 

The combination of demographic characteristics, lack of insurance, disenrollment of social programs, employment in frontline occupations, high prevalence of risk factors, and a general lack of access to health care leaves these vulnerable populations in an even more susceptible situation for COVID-19 infection, which contributes to the racial disparities reported during the pandemic. 

This is the first installment of a 3 part series examining the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our immigrant and refugee communities.
Written by [Refugees Welcome!] research fellow, Diego Erdmenger Cazali .Diego works with [RW!] on the Research Team. He is currently pursuing both an MBA and a Master’s in Public Health through Boston University’s dual degree program.

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