The COVID-19 Impact on Our State’s Most Vulnerable

by Calvin Allen
Program Director
Rural Forward NC

COVID-19 is NC’s latest forecasted hurricane, but will its largest impacts on our most vulnerable be visible? 

We may not have experience with a disease like coronavirus, but in this current health crisis, we can see patterns of the natural disasPeople Working Togetherters that North Carolina knows too well. As the Public Education Team of the NC Inclusive Disaster Recovery Network, our organizations support our state’s public health experts in their call to wash our hands frequently, be thoughtful about travel and gathering with crowds of people, and to combat fear and anxiety as much as we combat the virus itself. We also offer lessons we have learned from the many hurricanes NC has faced. 

Like hurricanes, losses are likely to fall most heavily on people who are already having the hardest time, especially in rural communities, communities of color, communities of lower wealth, and others with special needs. 

Like hurricanes, those who are most affected are likely to be absent from planning the response and recovery — ignoring or eroding the strengths, creativity, and social networks that are present in every community. 

While small rural communities may benefit from their relative distance, an outbreak will further tax their stretched resources from previous disasters and threaten their access to needed services. 

However, unlike a hurricane, the damage from COVID-19 will be less visible. Flooded homes and businesses are easier to see than the loss of income for workers and small businesses. The emphasis on social distancing means that even the threat of an outbreak may be financially devastating to businesses as employees and customers self-quarantine or care for family members. These losses translate into missed mortgage or rent payments, high credit card bills, and long-term financial instability. 

Based on the broad collaboration that we deployed after our recent hurricanes, we know that it is critical for our state to use policies, public dollars and public institutions to provide income, job and housing security so people who are affected can stay home when their safety is threatened and seek treatment when they are ill. We can also advocate for and invest in local talent instead of bringing in contractors from outside the state, focusing job training on communities where the need for jobs is greatest and people are most likely to be affected. And we can create and participate in accessible opportunities for collaboration in the planning and response process. 

Just as hurricane relief gives way to recovery, North Carolina’s public and private organizations can help communities and community leaders prepare for the broader impacts of this epidemic. Those who have the least should not suffer the most, regardless of whether the disaster is wind, water, or a virus. 

The Public Education Team is the outreach arm of the NC Inclusive Disaster Recovery Network – a collaborative of public, private, non-profit, and faith organizations seeking avenues for community voice and equitable access to resources in the disaster recovery system. 

Public Education Team – Member Organizations 

  • Budget and Tax Center
  • Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation
  • NC Association of Community Development Organizations
  • NC Housing Coalition
  • NC Justice Center
  • NC Pro Bono Resource Center
  • Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA


Contact Calvin Allen, Director, Rural Forward NC for more information about the NC Inclusive Disaster Recovery Network.