As park and recreation professionals work towards a path to recovery from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, it is essential to take a thoughtful and methodical approach to reinstating operations that protects public health and safety. This section of the Path to Recovery Framework includes guidance on ensuring that the recovery process prioritizes equity and meeting the needs of those most vulnerable.

While COVID-19 has impacted each one of us, it is well known that certain populations have been more severely affected — people aged 65+, people experiencing homelessness, and people with underlying chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, asthma and heart disease. In addition, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted people of color, low-income and rural communities, indigenous people, low-wage workers, people with disabilities, people without documentation, and other historically marginalized and underserved populations, resulting in an increased risk of exposure, increased rates of infection, hospitalization, mortality and significantly more negative impacts to daily life. While the effects of COVID-19 on the health of racial and ethnic minority groups is still emerging, current data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.

There are many contributing factors to this disproportionate impact including our country’s deep-rooted history of unjust policies, practices and biases that have created barriers in access to quality housing, job and educational opportunities, healthcare, healthy foods, and safe neighborhoods — including access to quality parks and recreation opportunities. For many, the economic and social conditions including living conditions (e.g. densely populated areas, multigenerational households, etc.), working circumstances (e.g. classification as “essential workers”, lack of paid sick leave, etc.), and lower access to care (e.g. lack of health insurance, underlying medical conditions, etc.) make it difficult to prevent exposure to COVID-19 or seek treatment when warranted.

Understanding the Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Vulnerable Populations

To begin to address the needs of vulnerable populations, there must first be an understanding of how vulnerable populations are impacted and strategies being suggested to reduce the negative impacts of COVID-19. Below are several resources to start with to gain a deeper understanding of this issue.

What Can Park and Recreation Professionals Do?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 page provides resources for supporting vulnerable and high-risk populations, as well as information regarding COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups. These pages outline strategies on how public health professionals and community organizations, including parks and recreation, can take action to support those most impacted and prioritize equity. These recommendations call upon professionals to:

  • Prioritize resources and provide essential services.
    • How will (and what) programs and services be relaunched? Are you prioritizing and planning to make resources available for those programs and services (e.g. child and older adult meal programs, programs for people experiencing homelessness and those without documentation, etc.) that address the needs of the most vulnerable populations even if they require more resources to do so?
    • While in-person programs and services are relaunching, how will vulnerable populations who are unable to make an in-person visit continue to access them? Will resources still be allocated to continue and improve upon remote access to programs and services? Given that 8 in 10 COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S. are among individuals 65 years and older, what is the plan to continue to meet their needs? During what phase will senior centers reopen?

  • Ensure communications about COVID-19 and necessary precautions are reaching all populations.
    • What is the plan for communicating with the community to ensure that those hardest to reach (perhaps due to lack of internet, etc.) are well informed?

  • Leverage health promotion programs to reach those most in need.
    • Health promotion programming should focus on chronic disease prevention and management as well as mental and behavioral health and coping with stress.

  • Work collaboratively with community partners.
    • What community organizations and partnerships will be leveraged to ensure the needs of these groups are being meet? For example, will you consult with the state department on again your local office on aging to identify the best ways to meet the needs of the older adults in your community?
    • Can partnerships be leveraged to connect people to essential services, such as healthcare providers, grocery delivery or temporary housing?

  • Address social and economic factors by embedding equity into plans, policies and guiding practices now and in the future.
    • How will you create a welcoming in-person and virtual environment for all community residents?
    • What will the program and services fee structure look like, given that many families may have lost income and are already struggling to meet their basic needs?

  • Address the needs and concerns of your staff especially if they belong to one of these vulnerable groups.
    • Does your staff have people who are aged 65+, have underlying health conditions,  are underinsured, are caregivers, or who may not feel safe resuming their duties at this time? How will this be handled equitably? Can they continue their duties at home?

  • Be a voice and advocate – take part in community planning efforts to ensure the needs of those most vulnerable are taken into consideration.
    • How will you ensure that the voices of your most vulnerable populations are taken in consideration?

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