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Episcopal Health Foundation Study Reveals COVID-19’s Impact on Harris County Residents

The pandemic has many struggling with employment and lack of health care and basic needs, with a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

Kathryn Griffin, right, with Harris County Precinct One, distributes a food in Harris County's Acres Homes community. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

In early March 2020, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reported the first case of COVID-19 in the state. Later that month, the Harris County judge issued a stay-at-home order to curb the spread of the disease. An Arnold Ventures-supported study conducted by Episcopal Health Foundation explored the views and experiences of Harris County residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the impact on their health, financial conditions, and concerns for the future.

The study found that one in 10 residents have lost insurance at some point since March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than 30 percent of residents under the age of 65 are currently without health insurance coverage. An even higher percentage of residents are skipping or postponing medical treatment. And while the use of virtual resources to access health care has been touted as a benefit during the pandemic, 20 percent of residents in Harris County cannot access telemedicine resources because they either do not have a computer, tablet, or smartphone with internet access. 

Roughly 60 percent of residents have experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. Four in 10 (44 percent) say they or someone in their household have lost their job, their business, been furloughed, had their wages or hours reduced, or taken mandatory unpaid leave. This has disproportionately impacted lower-income households making under $75,000. And while a majority of residents say they received financial assistance from the federal government in response to COVID-19, Harris County residents were less likely to report receiving these benefits than the 72 percent of Texas residents as a whole.

The study also highlights how the impact of COVID-19 is tied to racial inequity. Consistent with national studies, this study finds that communities of color are more likely to endure financial hardship due to the pandemic: Non-white residents reported more financial hardships in comparison to white residents (67 percent versus 45 percent). There were similar disparities in who lost insurance and who relied on assistance to get by. Additionally, the pandemic response has heavily relied on essential workers, 74 percent of whom are people of color.

As the county continues to grapple with the repercussions of the pandemic on the health care system and economy, and residents continue to worry about the effects of COVID-19 on their own health and finances, more than half of residents are concerned about the ability of government to prepare for a new wave of COVID-19. However, Texans are helping Texans. Almost a quarter of respondents said that they have received assistance from nonprofit organizations in their communities for support like food assistance and other basic needs.