COVID-19 and Social Determinants of Health (How Your Environment Affects Health, Insurance, and Finances)

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How susceptible are you to negative influences on your health?

Before you calculate what’s in the pantry and how many times you actually went to the gym, you should consider social determinants of health factors. When we think of health and healthcare, factors outside of self-control don’t always come to mind, despite the crucial roles they play.

The ongoing pandemic has reminded all of us of just how little we can predict the future. Living during a pandemic, questions like how to cover bills and if life insurance covers COVID-19 directly began to affect our lives.

Social determinants of health play important roles in either helping or hurting our health. COVID-19 has exposed just how crucial these elements are in making some more vulnerable than others.

What are social determinants of health?

Social determinants of health (SDH) are the elements of someone’s environment that have great potential to affect a person’s health. Social determinants of health influence a community’s overall health.

A list of the main components of SDH is:

  • Access to education
  • Access to quality health care
  • Early childhood development
  • Food insecurity
  • Housing and basic amenities
  • Income and job security
  • Physical environments
  • Social inclusion and non-discrimination
  • Social environments
  • Transportation

These life categories define social determinants of health because they are often linked and dependent on one another. If there’s a lack of resources that can provide protection and progression in any of these categories, they will have negative effects on the overall communal health.

These elements present differences in health status between populations that disproportionately affect specific communities’ mental and physical health over others.

Who is considered high risk for COVID-19?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the list of who was the most vulnerable was repeated to the public. Being considered high risk means that a person with COVID-19 may become severely ill and may need hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to help them breathe.

These heightened conditions combined may even be fatal to those that fall under a high-risk category. A list of high-risk individuals includes:

  • Addicts
  • Anyone with a medical history of cancer
  • Older people
  • Pregnant women
  • Smokers
  • Those who suffer from autoimmune deficiency diseases or illnesses that weaken the immune system such as chronic kidney disease, lupus, asthma, sickle cell, diabetes type one and two, HIV, hypertension, and more.

Though these warnings were issued, it has still been difficult for the general public to change the perception of a vulnerable person. We can’t control all of the elements that cause weakened physical health, but one’s SDH environment can influence the likelihood of disease and risk of COVID-19.

Have certain ethnic groups been hit harder by COVID-19?

The short answer is yes, but where do social determinants of health come to play when discussing COVID-19? Good question.

The ongoing impact of COVID-19 on distressed real estate, transportation, and education has affected everyone but has certainly highlighted and widened the gaps between racial communities.

Per data reported by The BMJ, 74 percent of cleaning services workers and 60 percent of the warehouse, delivery, and essential employees are migrants and people of color. According to the same data, women make up 70 percent of the health and social work workforce, which puts them at a higher exposure risk.

For generations, communities of color have been disproportionately influenced by SDH that also affects the quality of local education, transportation, and food security.  Due to this perfect storm, COVID-19 cases and death statistics have shown an imbalance for minorities versus the rest of the population.

The pattern of SDH and COVID-19 becomes transparent as we look at other countries such as the U.K., where communities of color are experiencing fatality rates twice as high.

Social Determinants of Health and COVID-19 Transmission

COVID-19 is transferred from person to person by respiratory droplets. We release respiratory droplets when we sneeze, cough, burp, or talk, which is why there have been social distancing and mask mandates.

Physical distancing measures are necessary to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, but following these precautions is considerably more difficult for those affected by SDH. When it comes to one’s health, SDH factors like where they live, work, or worship can make even healthy people more vulnerable.

Collectively social determinants are the root cause that contributes to the rapid transmission rates seen in migrant, ethnic, and low-income communities. The following are a few categories to consider to begin recognizing the patterns created by adverse SDH conditions.

Food Insecurity and Transportation

For the many children living in poverty, school lunch programs are the only reliable food source, and schools being shut down cut off that resource.

In addition to schools closing, many low-income families do not have personal means of transportation making food within walking distance the most abundant. Food deserts are found in these communities, and without adequate nutrition, members of these communities often suffer from weakened immune systems.

Lack of Quality Education

Urban areas across the nation receive fewer funds for education resources. The quality of a school and its teachers becomes binary with a community’s graduation and high education rate.

Those seen as less educated tend to have more trouble with job and income security. Those who don’t obtain higher education credentials are also more likely to work in blue-collar and essential positions.

Low-income workers often work in harsher conditions that expose them to more individuals giving them a high exposure risk for COVID-19 and other physical illnesses. Typically, essential workers like cleaning personnel and grocery store employees have no minimum insurance coverage and receive inadequate healthcare.

Multifamily Housing

Housing disparities have hindered black homeownership resulting in multifamily housing units majorly serving people of color. Keeping the six feet of recommended social distance in tight spaces such as hallways, stairs, and elevators can be difficult when you need them to access your home.

Prison Rates

Black men and women are more likely than their white counterparts to be incarcerated, where social distancing has proven to be more challenging. Though incarceration is a taboo subject, it has proven to be an unfortunate result for many living in communities most affected by adverse SDH.

What causes some people to develop severe COVID-19?

It is evident that communities of color have been more likely to contract COVID-19 due to the risks presented by contrary social determinants of health conditions. Pre-pandemic, those within the African American and Latinx communities were already more likely to be low income, which initiates the potential for all other SDH factors.

If you are looking for a starting point or direct answer to who will develop severe COVID-19, you may not be digging deep enough. It may seem difficult to pinpoint one area of fault, but by solving even one issue, other negative cycles of SDH can be broken.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying time for everyone, but with these issues becoming more exposed, we can hope for a brighter future.

Danielle Beck-Hunter writes and researches for the life insurance site, Danielle studies insurance and the elements that affect someone’s physical health and financial stability.










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