The worse of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to come, most Americans felt in July 2020. That foreboding feeling is shaping U.S. parents’ concerns about their children returning to school, with the calendar just weeks away from educators opening their classrooms to students, from kindergarten to the oldest cohort entering senior year of high school.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s July 2020 Health Tracking Poll focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic, return-to-school, and the governments’ response. KFF polled 1,313 U.S. adults 18 and older between July 14 to 19, 2020.

The first line chart illustrates Americans’ growing concerns about the coronavirus, shifting upward since May 2020 when state governors began to re-open local economies after the Great Lockdown.

But moving from “red light” to yellow and green has resulted in growing COVID-19 cases in new hotspots. As the New York City hotspot cooled and life in the area slowly, slowly opened to the next normal, new hotspots emerged in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, along with re-emerging caseloads in the state of California. This week, California overtook New York state in COVID-19 diagnoses.

By far, Americans said the top priority for Congress and the Federal government should be to increase funding for efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including testing, contact tracing, and supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to essential workers.

After funding these direct preventive public health tactics, most Americans believe increasing federal funding to state and local governments to help schools open safely should be a top priority, along with increasing government financial assistance to help Americans who don’t get health insurance through their jobs.

Thus, Americans’ top 3 priorities in mid-July focused on combating the coronavirus and stopping the spread, addressing safe return to schools, and bolstering health citizens’ access to financial and health security.

These concerns led one-half of people in the U.S. to give the Federal government a grade of “poor performance,” with another one-fourth rating it “fair.”

Overall, most of the U.S. public (63%) would prefer for schools to open later to minimize the risk to COVID-19. As with many lenses on the pandemic, there is a large gap on this return-to-school issue across political party identification:

  • 87% of Democrats would like to postpone face-to-face school opening
  • 59% of Independents would have schools open later
  • Only 36% of Republicans would postpone schools opening.

Seven in 10 Americans say public schools need more resources to reopen safely — with stark differences between white parents (54%) and parents of color (82%).

At the same time, two-thirds of parents overall are worried that their children would fall behind in their social and emotional development, along with falling behind academically. Furthermore, 39% of parents worry that their child would not get needed social services they usually get at school. One of these services is food security — breakfast and lunch served to students at school. [To that point, a study out this week from University of Colorado Denver found that access to food stamps reduced peoples’ need to go to the doctor’s office].

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  This last issue of students’ access to services they usually receive at school speaks to a larger challenge for millions of U.S. families during the pandemic.

The third chart here (chosen from among many in the KFF tracking poll) brings a sharper lens to the question of social determinants of health which COVID-19 has starkly revealed.

More women, younger people, and people of color were more likely to report adverse health effects in the past two months than were men, older people, and white, non-Hispanic folks.

The long lighter blue bar at the bottom of the chart tells the top-line moral to this story of health disparities in the COVID-19 era: that people more likely to report adverse health effects also have had difficulty affording household expenses due to the coronavirus.

This translates to the last chart here, from a June 2020 Morning Consult poll. While roughly the same number of white and black U.S. adults know someone who was infected with COVID-19, nearly twice as many black people know someone who died from COVID-19.

That’s a simple, clear statistic demonstrating the reality of health inequity dot-connecting to social determinants of health — most clearly, income inequality and access to well-paying jobs tied to health insurance.

The coronavirus has given us the opportunity to address and embrace the key pillars of health citizenship in rebuilding U.S. healthcare: fair wages, universal health care regardless of place of employment, education, and food security — all of which are in the hearts and minds of U.S. voters approaching November 3, 2020.