A Culture of Equity blog by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation asks readers to imagine enduring the COVID-19 pandemic without running water, reliable internet, or affordable gas and electric.
As the outbreak spread across the U.S., the influence of these utilities on health became much clearer. Running water is essential for washing hands to prevent infection spread. Internet access is necessary for employees to work from home, children to learn remotely, and patients to access telemedicine. Gas and electric keep people comfortable as they socially isolate to stay safe. All of these utilities are crucial to health equity.
It is well-established that COVID-19 disproportionately affects minorities, and rural, tribal and low-income communities. Gas, electric, water and broadband are often unavailable, unaffordable or unreliable for people who live in these communities. The Navajo Nation, for example, lacks clean running water, forcing residents to drive hours to haul barrels of water back to their homes to meet basic needs. This extra burden increases their risk of becoming infected. In North Carolina, people who are required to work from home sit in the parking lot of the local library to get access to the internet, an inconvenient and uncomfortable solution.
Race is the strongest predictor of poor water and sanitation access. Low-income communities are less likely to have access to safe and affordable running water. More than two million Americans live without running water and indoor plumbing.
Fifteen percent of households lack any form of broadband internet service. Economically and racially segregated communities are more likely to experience unreliable broadband connectivity compared to wealthier, White neighborhoods, typically due to the cost.
Almost one-third of households report difficulty paying their energy bills or adequately heating and cooling their homes. Almost 25 million households report reducing or forgoing necessities like food and medicine to pay energy bills.