The novel coronavirus has affected almost every aspect of life around the world. It has led to mass isolation, unemployment, economic recession, sickness and loss of life. COVID-19 has also exposed prevalent, systemic inequities in the U.S. and abroad.
The pandemic’s impact on society has immense implications for the student of sociology. The coronavirus’s effects are intersectional in nature, bridging social, economic and other health-related issues. These intersections of the human experience are at the root of sociological study.
Sociologists can provide a great deal of insight into the possible long-term effects of the coronavirus’s impact on society. This knowledge can help today’s leaders make informed decisions and choose effective courses of present and future action.
By earning an online Bachelor of Science in Sociology from Lamar University, students can develop the intersectional knowledge and expertise necessary to become part of this important process.
How Is COVID-19 Affecting Societal Health?
The concept of “health” could apply to many aspects of personal and collective well-being. The sociological perspective — as the science of human interaction — focuses on social conditions and their intersection with other components of the human experience. Sociology examines factors like physical, mental, social and economic health during the pandemic, all as they relate to individuals, groups and society at large.
Globally, millions of people have been infected with COVID-19. Hundreds of thousands have died. And those numbers will only continue to grow in the following months and years.
Many healthcare systems are ill-equipped to manage such a pandemic and, consequently, are operating beyond their capacity. This results in reduced access to care both for people infected by COVID-19 or facing other health conditions.
In turn, grief has ravaged mental and emotional health over the loss of loved ones, concern for others and oneself, collective anxiety and so many other factors. Shutdowns, quarantines and social distancing measures imposed to curb the virus’s spread have led to isolation and a lack of social interaction, which normally supports emotional resilience during trying times.
The shutdowns have also caused global economic disruption and recession. Unemployment rates in the U.S. are the highest they have been since the Great Depression. Economic markets are volatile and uncertain. Interdependent global supply chains have experienced widespread interruption, further decimating economies that rely on those supply chains.
How Do These Factors Intersect?
The intersections between the novel coronavirus’s many impacts on societal health are immensely complex. The following are a few simplified examples.
The economic recession and shutdowns have caused businesses to lose revenue and lay off workers in order to stay afloat. The unemployed struggle to meet their basic needs, let alone spend money on discretionary goods and services. Thus, consumers are not pumping their earnings back into the economy, making the downturn worse.
Financial hardship also causes significant stress, compounding other anxieties and worsening mental health. Those able to work from home can continue earning a wage. Yet, for parents, school closures mean balancing work, childcare and homeschooling, creating further stress.
Essential workers who still work during shutdowns face potential exposure to the virus every day. Given school closures, essential workers may struggle to ensure their children receive proper care. Many families depend on school meal programs, posing further malnutrition health risks while children must stay at home.
All of these factors can impact social and mental health for individuals and families. Poor mental health can result in physical health issues, medical costs and further hardship.
How Has the Pandemic Shed Light on Economic and Racial Disparities?
The African-American community has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Historical, systemic racism has impeded equal access to quality healthcare and services for generations. This, along with other factors of socioeconomic inequity, can result in the prevalence of adverse underlying health conditions in vulnerable African-American populations.
African Americans are also statistically more likely to work low-wage-yet-essential jobs due to other symptoms of systemic, economic racism. These jobs correlate with higher risk of exposure, as do overcrowded urban neighborhoods and project housing (remnants of segregation, racist zoning policies and discriminatory real estate practices). All of these factors compound the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African Americans.
How Will the Pandemic Shape Society?
The negative impacts and the inequities exposed by the pandemic are stark. Individual and group tendencies toward exclusive nationalism, politicization, stigmatization and self-serving practices have surfaced.
But the many pandemic-imposed challenges and tragedies have also inspired innovation, community action and collective determination to confront disparities.
Government bodies have overcome political differences (to a certain degree) to provide citizens with economic relief and health services. Public-private partnerships provide low-income students with internet and technology for remote learning. Businesses have innovated to create remote work models that can better cope with mass disruption.
People have found new ways to connect with each other across distances. Community groups have organized support systems to get supplies and services to vulnerable members. Social movements have erupted to fight for racial and economic justice.
These are examples of the unifying effects of disaster and tragedy. Some are taking crisis recovery as an opportunity to innovate and work toward an equitable, healthy and resilient society. This may seem optimistic. But, historically, massive disruptions and traumatic global events have led to social change and progress. One would hope the same will hold true for the post-COVID-19 world.
Learn more about Lamar University’s online Bachelor of Science in Sociology program.