Preventing the spread of COVID-19 in multigenerational homes
By Dena Vang
Living in a multigenerational home has become increasingly common in the United States. One in five Americans currently live in a home with multiple generations. While this living arrangement has its benefits – financial support, accessible childcare and shared meals – a multigenerational household can also be a double-edge sword during COVID-19, especially for Black families.
African American grandparents play a significant role in the homes across America. The 2020 Neilson African American Report, research found that 5% of African American grandparents live with their grandchildren and 40% of those grandparents are the main caregivers for their grandchildren. Twenty-nine percent of African American households are more likely to have children under 18 compared to 27% of all U.S. households according to the report.
As the pandemic pushes closer to a year in length, many Black organizations have been addressing hesitancy and concerns African Americans have about getting the COVID-19 vaccines. According to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), there are still 38% of African Americans who are reported to be reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It is crucial that all Black Americans get the most accurate information about how to stay safe and healthy during the fight against COVID-19.
The Black Doctors Against COVID-19 (BCAC) is one organization which is keeping African Americans up to date about the pandemic. The BCAC has hosted several Facebook Live events to help Black Americans make informed decisions about COVID which will help to save our lives. During January’s “Making it Plain: What Black America Needs to Know About COVID-19 and Vaccines” event, Dr. Felicia Collins, Rear Admiral, United States Public Health Service; HHS Acting Assistant Secretary of Health was one of the 15 speakers who addressed what Black America needs to know about COVID and the vaccines including how the virus affects multigenerational families.
The impact that the coronavirus is having on multigenerational families really hits close to home for Collins.
“The essential worker in my extended family, unfortunately became infected with COVID and brought it home,” Collins said. “And then grandma became infected and later passed away,” she said.
For some Black multigenerational families, not having access to separate facilities in their homes poses another challenge when trying to stay healthy during the pandemic.
“The multigenerational families living in homes with one bathroom makes it harder for us,” Collins said. “As African Americans are trying to quarantine and go through these periods knowing that if we’re infected with COVID, we have to stay at home and be away from others.”
Another concern facing African Americans are social determinants of health, which include access to quality health care, housing, transportation and the access to education and job opportunities.
When it comes to employment, Black people are disproportionately represented in the area of essential workers, which not only increases our risk of contracting COVID-19 but also those who are living in their households.
Collins said this poses a problem for African Americans who are working in these jobs on the frontlines.
“We are working in long-term care facilities, grocery stores or we’re driving the trains and the buses, and we can’t work from home,” she said.
Collins stressed the importance of African Americans staying equipped with vital information to ensure that they are not at the end of the line when the COVID vaccine is widely available.
“The fact is, there are other people waiting to take our spots in line,” Collins said. “They are willing to take the vaccination if we say, ‘No thank you’ to when the vaccine is offered.”
Being armed with accurate information is key as the Black community fight against COVID-19, especially at a time when there’s a surge of new virus variants which some studies suggest is about 50% more transmissible than the existing iterations of the virus. Collins said the Office of Minority Health is committed to providing the Black community with accurate information about COVID-19, vaccines and so much more. Collins said the collective sharing of accurate information is vital for African Americans to push past the pandemic.
“I’m a really firm believer in the power of information,” she said. “Each of us must share that power of information with our families and communities. And then we’re going to collectively defeat COVID-19.”
The Biden administration has an aggressive plan in place to help us push through the pandemic, which includes vaccinating 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall. While Black Americans wait for the COVID-19 vaccine to become widely available, the CDC recommends the following tips to protect themselves and family members, including those who are at an increased risk for severe illness from the virus. Colins said it’s important that African Americans don’t allow COVID-19 fatigue to make us complacent.
“Recommit to the public health measures which I know that everyone has heard of, but they are really critical to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our communities safe from COVID,” she said.
Here are the latest CDC recommendations for our optimal protection from the coronavirus and other virus variants:
• Wear your mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin. Fit the mask snugly against the sides of your face, slipping the loops over your ears or tying the strings behind your head.
• Stay home as much as possible.
• Keep social distance. Stay 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) apart from others.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
• Don’t touch your eyes, nose, mouth or mask with unclean hands.
• Clean frequently touched surfaces and any shared items between use like tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, toilets, faucets and sinks with soap and water. Then, use a household cleaner to disinfect the surface. Wear gloves, if possible, when cleaning and disinfecting.
• Make sure the household has good air flow. Open a window and turn on a fan to bring in and circulate fresh air if it is safe and practical to do so.
• Avoid hugging, kissing, or sharing food or drinks with people at increased risk for severe illness in your household.
• Don’t have visitors unless they need to be in your home (e.g., home health nurse). If you do have visitors, before they enter your home, check yourself and others in your household for symptoms of COVID-19 and ask your visitors to do the same. Remember to stay at least 6 feet apart, wear a mask, and ask visitors to wear a mask before entering your home.
• Do not allow any sick or exposed visitors to enter your home.
• Avoid having family members at increased risk care for others in their household. If people at increased risk must be the caregiver, those who are being cared for should stay home as much as possible to protect their family members at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
For more information about COVID-19 and upcoming events: Black Coalition Against COVID-19, a key health resource for African Americans.
BlackDoctor.org, the world’s largest and most comprehensive online health resource specifically targeted to African Americans.
For more information about COVID-19 news: head to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/living-inclose-quarters.pdf