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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 virus that could

impact them. I noticed many young people flocking to the beaches in Florida for their spring

break because the media had done such a good job at letting us all know that this virus

impacted primary people over 65 years old. I also noticed, that there was an increase in

xenophobia towards Asian people. This was both disheartening and disappointing as a direct

result of racism spouted from the white house administration. As the 45 th President of the

United States made sure to let all of us know that this was a Chinese virus. We later came to

learn that while we were stopping Asians from entering the country, we allowed over 500,000

people from Europe to enter between January and March of 2020. According to New York State Governor Cuomo’s sources, COVID-19 strain that had impacted the majority of those in the City of New York were the individuals who travelled from Europe.

I noticed that nursing homes and correctional facilities had astonishing higher rates of COVID-19 cases, neighborhoods specifically in NYC that were predominately on the lower economic demographics suffered at higher rates, not because they were not socially distancing but because they were the essential workers, they were the ones that couldn’t social distance due to the density in population were they lived. The individual and family’s ramifications of these neighborhoods were the inability to honor their loved ones with a burial that would be fitting to their cultural norms. Many were only allowed 5 people at the funeral home, while others were not able to afford a burial and had to opt for cremation. The economic burdens of having to bury multiple family members at the same time also impacts the individuals in these neighborhoods. Resources for burials have been slow and many advocates have been advocating for monetary support to the families. Also, we saw a push for early releases of those individuals involved in the justice system who have minimum offences.

Currently, I have been providing telehealth mental health services to essential workers in all

industries, coaching and consulting to organizations. Many of my social work colleagues work in mental health clinics, hospitals, shelters, and child welfare. To ensure that patients were receiving appropriate mental health after discharge to manage trauma due to domestic

violence or the loss and bereavement due to the death of a loved one. To ensure that those

experiencing homelessness received the adequate medical and mental health services and

housing they needed. To ensure that children were kept safe during these times compounded with their parents stress due to loss of jobs, lack of resources, and food insecurity.

Tips To Improve Your Mental Health

Signs to look out for:


 Sleeping too little or too much

 Eating too little or too much

 Loss of interest in doing things that brought you joy

 Engaging in proper hygiene and health care routines

 Increase use of recreational drugs and alcohol abuse

 Increase and unexplained body aches

 Prolonged despair and sadness


Engage in Wellness Practices:

 Take your medication as prescribed

 Seek medical and mental health when needed

 Conduct all follow up visits with your health care professionals

 Structure your day

 Sleep 6-8 hours every night

 Walk / Dance for 15-30 minutes everyday

 Honor those who have died from COVID-19

 Drink water

 Video/ Call friends and family

 Engage with your community

 Maintain social distance (about 6 ft)

 Wash your hands

 Routinely clean and disinfect

 Wear masks with filter and cover your nose and mouth

 Stay in touch with local government and officials


Melissa D. Elliott, LCSW-R, SIFI is the Founder and CEO of MDL Coaching and Consulting, LLC located in Brooklyn, NY. She is psychotherapist, coach and consultant to various individuals and institutions who have an anti-racist, anti-black lens. She primary provides therapy for those who are experiencing trauma, anxiety and depression related to perinatal and postnatal mood disorders, interpersonal, social and economic challenges. She provides coaching to women of color who desire to be in alignment with their values and purpose in life. She provides clinical supervision to those pursuing their licensure in the state of NY and she provides consulting to institutions for mental health intervention and program development with an anti-racist lens.

For more information about how she can provide you with tele/zoom services, please email her at mdlcoachingandconsulting@gmail.com or 929-234-1697. Her website:

www.mdlcoachingandconsulting.com or LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-d-elliott-

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