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SOCIAL WORK RESPONSE TO COVID-19


Melissa D. Elliott, LCSW, SIFI

Social workers work in so many industries, we are in health care, child welfare, workforce

development, mental health, government, social service, department of homelessness, veteran affairs, education, and the justice systems to name a few. We support individuals, families, communities and organizations on micro, mezzo and macro levels. We are the ones who come to know the inner desires, motivations, aspirations and passions of the most vulnerable populations. Whether it’s an individual who experiences post traumatic anxiety after prolonged exposure to emotional, physical or psychological abuse or organizations striving to become more anti-racist in their hiring policies, staff supervision, practices with clients served and board development. We are often the sole voices fighting for social justice, self-determination and the dignity and worth of a person.

These vulnerabilities come in various inequalities, access and delivery of adequate and

appropriate health care, education, justice, employment, housing, mental health, economical

upward mobility and community-based resources. The underlying thread in all of these

industries is and will always be institutional racism. Blacks and Latinos make up 13 % of the

population in the United States. Yet, they are overly represented in the justice systems, child

welfare systems and medical/mental health systems and under-represented in higher economic statuses that leads to generational wealth, home ownership and frankly a piece of the American pie.

So, it is not surprising, that Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately represented at higher

rates of deaths and illnesses for COVID-19, due to the economic and social disparities. On May 27, 2020 we reached 100,000 deaths due to the COVID-19. That’s enough people to fill up the Michigan Stadium, USA. We have all been impacted by this virus, whether relational, physical, emotional, political, financial, social, and/or psychological.

As a Barbadian-American, Black woman living in the vibrant city of Brooklyn, NY. COVID- 19 has impacted me both personally and professionally. During Mid-March we were all told to shelter in place, social distance and work from home. It stirred up feelings of anxiety, stress, trauma, and loss. I and the rest of us didn’t know what to expect, we shopped like the world was ending, only wanting to ensure that we would be stocked up in the event that we could never go outside again. We feared the worst, this invisible threat could attack on any front and we knew we were not prepared for it.

I was teaching at NYU at the time and I remember that both of my Asian students came in

wearing masks. They specifically asked me, when are we going to be able to be sent home. I

truly didn’t have an answer for them at the time because everything was happening so fast and the response had been so slow. They expressed to me that their home countries government had demanded that everyone wear masks and social distance. They were quite perplexed that America was not taking the same lead. They even said that their families sent them boxes of masks so that they would be ok. It made me think about, how long they knew about this virus.

Most importantly, why wasn’t my government, the same government that we pay taxes too,

had not been advising us of how we should be keeping ourselves safe. Instead the chief in

charge doubted that the virus actually existed thus leading to ramifications of our society,

lacking empathy, unity and decency. I observed many fighting to be free, while others were

fighting to breathe.

I saw on social media, my black and brown folks stating that this was not a vi