How COVID Can Upend Families

Paper family of three surrounded by Coronavirus and economic related news headlines

In most of the media coverage of the COVID pandemic and the current variant, we tend to focus on vaccines, masks, hospital overcrowding and controversies like what we should do about school precautions. We also have a significant political dialogue that has spurned controversy nationwide.

I just read a story that reminded me of the more subtle and tragic impact of COVID to specific families. It is an article in the Fresno Bee. It simply speaks to the issue of how just the issue of sending kids to school can have tremendous negative impact to 3 different families. Here are the summaries of these stories in this article:

Laura García’s 13-year-old daughter, Jennifer, returned to in-person instruction at Raisin City Elementary School in mid-August, following a more than year-long hiatus brought on by the pandemic. Not even a month into the new school year, Jennifer developed a fever, cough, sore throat and agonizing headache, she said.

It didn’t take long before 33-year-old García, her husband, Oscar, and four other children also got sick. Within a week, the entire family had tested positive for COVID-19. That meant Oscar, the sole breadwinner, was unable to go work in the fields, leaving the family without wages for two weeks.

“It’s so awful to be in this situation when I have so many children, and what do I do when the food runs out?” García said in Spanish in a September 2 interview with The Fresno Bee. “I don’t want another family to go through this.”

In Raisin City, an unincorporated community of 414 people located about 13 miles southwest of Fresno, most residents are low-income Latino immigrants who lack access to critical health and educational resources. Though the families have recovered from the virus, their experiences demonstrate how even a small outbreak can have long-lasting adverse effects across rural communities. For example:

▪ Laura García’s husband lost two weeks of income while sick and quarantining with his family. With little money to pay for food, the family relied on friends and relatives to help them feed their six children.

▪ Carmen Cuautenco León, 40, is a single mother of three kids. Her 13-year old daughter is in eighth grade at Raisin City Elementary and also tested positive for COVID-19. She quit her job picking grapes to take care of her daughter and two other children who were sent home to quarantine.

▪ Victoria Morales, 40, is a single mother who doesn’t have children in the eighth-grade class. But three of her five kids were sent home due to another COVID-19 scare. The remote location of their home made it difficult to connect to a hotspot and they struggled with distance learning.

We often focus on the direct effects to health and safety but in so many parts of our country even a small outbreak of COVID in an elementary school can cause economic, social and emotional deficits that can deprive children and families of basic care and necessities like food and possibly housing. In families that live from paycheck to paycheck, a two-week gap in the capability to work can create a crisis that brings fear, anxiety and a family crisis. This is why we as a nation should be vigilant about working to end this pandemic with all of the research and proactive mitigation that we can. The children and families in this story represent thousands more who are in tremendous adversity. 

Gerry Vassar


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