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UNC research: Areas hardest hit by coronavirus face greater challenge to get students back in the classroom

Posted July 23, 2020 12:42 p.m. EDT
Updated July 24, 2020 10:20 a.m. EDT

— A research team from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released findings on Thursday about how the coronavirus has had a disproportionate impact across the state.

One of the findings was that school districts in areas were COVID-19 cases per 100,000 were the highest were the least prepared to support student needs.

"We don't really know how students have been impacted in terms of achievement," the research team reported.

The team determined resources based on of the number of staff available, particularly student support staff. They looked at how many nurses, guidance counselors and psychologists were at each school in proportion to the number of students.

National guidance recommends that schools have one nurse for every 750 students, but school districts across the state failed to "meet nationally recommended ratios for school support personnel."

The school districts that were the least prepared by this standard were:

  • Forsyth County Schools, with 1,418 students for each nurse.
  • Wayne County Public Schools, with 895 students for each nurse .
  • Johnston County School District, with 1,765 students for each nurse.
  • Duplin County Schools, with 737 students for each nurse.

"If students return to school in 2020-2021, they will have unique physical, mental and behavior health needs," the team reported.

Unequal financial impact of the pandemic

"Attempts to buffer the financial impact of this pandemic on households have not reached all groups equally," said Valerie Lundeen, research fellow with UNC's Department of Public Policy.

North Carolina Medicaid enrollment has soared, the researchers included in their report. As of June, more than 2.1 million people applied for Medicaid. Researchers also noted that SNAP participation (formerly called food stamps) – which is usually down in the summer – is up.

More low-income households have lost income than wealthier households since April, the researchers found. A total of 61% of homes where the household income is less than $25,000 were reported to have lost their main source of income.

The Black and Hispanic population both report housing insecurity at a higher rate than any other race since April. Specifically, Black and Hispanic people were least confident that they could make next month's rent.

Renters are more affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to US Census data, and the most affected renters are Hispanic renters.

County-by-county unemployment breakdown

Last month, North Carolina's unemployment rate is higher than it was during the great recession.

The western part of the state has been suffering from the highest unemployment rates since April. The researchers predicted that over 21,000 jobs are not expected to return to North Carolina.

Three counties had the highest improvement in their unemployment numbers from April to May:

  • Alexander County
  • Dare County
  • Catawba County

Counties with the highest chance of death after coronavirus infection

Researchers determined that 10 counties in North Carolina were experiencing the highest ratio of deaths to cases of COVID-19. A death-to-case ratio, according to the researchers shows the probability of death after being infected from the virus.

To calculate the death-to-case ratio, researchers said they divided the number of deaths per 10,000 by the number of cases per 10,000 for each county. By using the case and death concentrations, rather raw numbers, they were able to adjust for county population.

  • Northampton County

  • Henderson County

  • Columbus County

  • Jones County

  • Washington County

  • Perquimans County

  • Pasquotank County

  • Hertford County

  • Vance County

  • Gates County

It's important to note that method of calculation does not take into account where counties are testing less and only testing the most ill people.

The researchers also noted that six out of 10 of these counties had animal farms in them.

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