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West Virginia University

Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina: Some populations at higher risk during COVID-19 pandemic

18-Mar-2020 12:15 PM EDT, by West Virginia University

Michael Zakour, professor of social work at West Virginia University, lived through Hurricane Katrina and studied the vulnerability and resiliency of the community following the disaster.

After observing the lack of coordination and communication - which put vulnerable populations at higher risk - before, during and after Hurricane Katrina, Zakour is concerned the same may be happening now in the U.S. response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Zakour has written numerous articles and books on disasters and community disaster vulnerability. He was lead editor of “Creating Katrina, Rebuilding Resilience: Lessons from New Orleans on Vulnerability and Resiliency.”

Quotes:

As in many other disasters, certain populations will bear the brunt of exposure to the virus, infection and mortality. These vulnerable populations must not be ignored or passed over when aid is provided to deal with the novel coronavirus.”

“The novel coronavirus is a disaster initiated by both natural forces and human-caused hazards. Of course, the natural hazard is the novel coronavirus. The human-caused hazard is the slowness of the response, and the lack of adequate coordination among government and private organizations at all levels.”  

“An unknown question in the pandemic is ‘Will this disaster be like Katrina, when the response system collapsed, and survivors faced violence and the eventual abandonment by the country of the entire region?’ Or will Americans pull together and cooperate to end this crisis and disaster? Hurricane Katrina taught students of disaster that pulling together is not always the case. So far, the coronavirus response has seen shortfalls in effective coordination and communication.”

“People with disabilities often suffer from serious underlying health problems and will be more susceptible to dying from the virus. This group is often underserved by the emergency system and will likely face similar hardships in this pandemic. Women and girls often suffer greatly because they are charged with caring for sick people who are unable to go to a hospital for treatment. Some women and girls may themselves become infected and die, given their responsibilities to care for others. We have already seen discrimination against people of Chinese ancestry, and on the U.S. West Coast and elsewhere people seem to be blaming the victims. Even the family members of people who have recovered from the virus have been shunned for fear they may transmit the virus.”

“The lack of mobilization of not-for-profit organizations with well-managed programs of trained volunteers is already limiting an effective response to the virus. This shortfall is made worse by the lack of flexibility in plans and response, a response in which responders are constantly learning and adjusting, and a lack of adequate public funding for the response to the virus disaster.”

“The United States must try to stay ahead of the novel coronavirus disaster through coordinated action and communication that includes serving the most vulnerable members of society.” - Michael Zakour, Professor of Social Work, WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

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