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Examining perceptions of COVID-19 in Alabama minority communities

New research examining the impact of COVID-19 on African Americans living in minority communities in Alabama has been published in Ethnicity & Health.

 

Early in the pandemic, virtual focus groups were conducted in five urban and rural Alabama communities to hear the concerns and roadblocks about the virus, COVID precautions, and testing that residents were experiencing. Their research found that gaining community members’ perspectives to identify barriers and facilitators to COVID-19 related to prevention, coping and testing may potentially improve outcomes.

 

The study was conducted by investigators Lori Bateman, Ph.D., and Yu-Mei Schoenberger, Ph.D., as part of community engagement initiatives of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Obesity Health Disparities Research Center.

 

“While addressing the social determinants of health, such as income, education and medical trust, would be an effective path by which to diminish health disparities related to COVID-19, this of course takes time, and there is an urgent need to mitigate the spread and severity of COVID-19 in vulnerable populations,” Bateman said. “Interventions should focus on downstream determinants, such as obstacles to prevention and care emerging from our study.”

 

Participants described barriers that may intensify health disparities. Barriers to prevention of COVID-19 included apathy, difficulty with social distancing, lack of information, mixed messages from authority figures and lack of personal protective equipment.

 

Barriers to coping with COVID-19 were food insecurity, mental health issues, isolation, economic hardships, lack of health care access, and issues with virtual schooling and church services, which were exacerbated by inability to connect to the internet.

 

Testing barriers included misunderstanding, fear, mistrust, testing restrictions and location of testing sites.

 

“These focus groups allowed residents to share their fears and concerns during the frightening and confusing early days of the pandemic,” Schoenberger said.

 

The study concluded that COVID-19 prevention and care programs should consider:

 

  • The need for access to clear, accurate, targeted and visible educational materials.
  • Access to testing by walk-up or drive-through venues within the most vulnerable communities.
  • Individuals trusted by the community, to guide residents through the process of identifying symptoms, accessing testing, explaining results and connecting those with positive test results to a health care provider for follow-up care.

 

“It is vital that we as researchers listen closely to what our communities are telling us,” said Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, principal investigator for the Obesity Health Disparities Research Center. “What we learned from this research shaped our COVID-19 education efforts and contributed to the creation of the Live HealthSmart Alabama mobile testing initiatives in underserved communities.”