COVID and Equity – A Tale of Two Isolations

Written by: Jordan Tinney

Published On: March 14th 2021

On face value, the two self-isolation letters read like any other letters from our local Health Authority. Please contact these families and tell them to put their child into self-isolation. What struck me on these two letters was that what I anticipated about the very different home and life situations these children would be going to. I knew these areas of town well. I know that in one case, these children are likely headed home for 2 weeks with high-speed internet, multiple computers and devices and potentially adults who can wrap themselves around for support. In the other situation, as I debriefed the context with an assistant superintendent, they asked me what I thought that self-isolation looked like in a two-bedroom apartment with 9 people and maybe one phone for the internet connection? COVID is taking what we know about equity and is thrusting it into the spotlight. The gaps that we know existed before, may become chasms when we finally return.

A second series of letters went out. In these letters, we directed well over 100 individuals to go get tested because of an exposure and we provided time slots and personal phone calls to check that they knew. They had been exposed to COVID and we arranged a test for them. Over one third did not show up for testing. There may be many reasons for this low turnout and we tracked people down, but it made me wonder.  Reports out of some countries suggest that in areas of high poverty, people are shunning COVID testing because if they test positive, the cost of self-isolation is too high. If a child tests positive, the family will be the first close contacts and likely would be asked to self-isolate as well. A recent UBC report states “The vicious cycle between low socioeconomic status and high health risk could exacerbate the inequality of negative impacts, further resulting in COVID-induced poverty for those vulnerable people in low-income.”

As I searched the topic more, I found a StatsCan report published in October 2020 looked into mortality rates in communities in BC that were home to more than 25% visible minorities and found that the “age-adjusted COVID-19 mortality rate was 10 times higher than neighbourhoods that were less than one per cent visible minority.” Once again, COVID does not strike equally.

Ten times higher.

What are the implications for education? Over the past 20 years (and likely more) we have seen a growing trend where more and more is being asked of our schools. We provide the counseling services, the mental health, social, and trauma supports. We care for children, we protect children, we feed children. Schools are not just the hubs of their communities, they are deeply interconnected to the social fabric. In a post-COVID world, we can expect the focus of education to be on equity. We will be called upon to meet the challenge of closing the gap that has been widened by COVID.

I think back to the family who we are putting into self-isolation. Again, what does self-isolation look like in a 2 bedroom apartment with 9 people? For the parent who has a part-time job, what does it mean for their employment if the child tests positive so the parent is put into self-isolation as well? How do we provide any quality education when the home situation means no access to internet or connectivity? How will this child find adequate nourishment when we know that their school feeds them breakfast every day? What impact will isolation have on this child’s well-being? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but what I do know is that when COVID is over and everyone says “back to normal” – it isn’t really normal at all, it’s how do we pick up the pieces and rebuild with hope and optimism? How do we come to truly understand the impact of just what pandemic has done to our children and their well-being?

I still think about families in poverty as we all try to stop COVID. One of the basics of our safety controls is monitoring your own health. If I’m a person who is supporting my family day to day on a small wage that barely meets the basics of putting a roof overhead and food on the table, how will I answer that question that says, do you have any symptoms today? What if I know that, if I don’t report to work, there will be no job for me to return to?

When we say to people, don’t come to work when you are sick, for some people, it’s a much more complicated ask that includes their ability to feed their family or keep their job. It should come as no surprise to anyone that COVID strikes those who have the most to lose. Our job will be dealing with that impact in the years to come. How will we do that? As we always do, one caring adult at a time where schools wrap around each child.