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COVID-19's Effects on Mental Health, Food Access, and Education: RAND Weekly Recap

April 3, 2020

This week we discuss ways to support the mental and emotional health of America's health care workers; whether you should consider taking a loved one out of a long-term care facility; what's being done to address food access challenges; why Washington should reengage with the world after COVID-19; tips to promote kids' social and emotional well-being; and how the pandemic may affect the Middle East.

A health care worker in protective equipment enters the Brooklyn Hospital Center during the COVID-19 outbreak in Brooklyn, New York, March 31, 2020, photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

A health care worker enters the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York, March 31, 2020

Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

A Mental Health Crisis May Be Looming

Severe staff shortages. Difficult decisions about scarce resources. Inadequate protection from the coronavirus. These are just a few of the harrowing challenges facing health care workers on the frontlines of America's fight against COVID-19. According to RAND experts, these professionals are at risk for both short- and long-term mental health problems. And to prevent a mental health crisis from creeping in, we need to take action now.

Hospitals should focus on evidence-based solutions, such as providing access to psychological first aid and counseling, allowing staff to get adequate rest, and offering childcare and other family supports. Failure to take such steps—which reinforce the resilience of people who are risking their lives to protect public health—could threaten the last line of defense against this pandemic.

Mother and daughter look out a window, photo by MangoStar_Studio/Getty Images

Photo by MangoStar_Studio/Getty Images

Should You Take a Loved One Out of a Long-Term Care Facility?

Many Americans are wondering whether a loved one should stay in an assisted living facility or be taken elsewhere due to the coronavirus. RAND researchers and other experts have some guidance for those weighing this difficult decision. For most people in long-term care facilities, the answer is to stay put, they say. But leaving temporarily could offer benefits for some. If you're facing this dilemma, the experts recommend questions to ask the facility—and yourself.

Children pick up lunch at the Olympic Hills Elementary School, after schools were closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, in Seattle, Washington, March 17, 2020, photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Children pick up lunch at Olympic Hills Elementary School, Seattle, Washington, March 17, 2020

Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Food Access Challenges Amid the Pandemic

In the United States, 14.3 million households were already experiencing food insecurity before the pandemic. COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions have exacerbated this problem, leaving children, seniors, and workers who are vital to the food supply chain among the most vulnerable. Fortunately, there are tremendous efforts underway to make sure that people struggling with food insecurity aren't forgotten, say RAND researchers. But there are a few new strategies that policymakers and community leaders should consider, too.

The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort passes the Statue of Liberty as it enters New York Harbor during the COVID-19 outbreak, March 30, 2020, photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort passes the Statue of Liberty as it enters New York Harbor, March 30, 2020

Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

After COVID-19, Reengage, Don't Retreat

Should the United States become further integrated with the global community after COVID-19? Or should it make permanent some of the barriers that have been erected to fight the pandemic? RAND experts argue that, while there are downsides to globalization, it offers economic gains and enhances the ability to solve big problems—including pandemics—through collective responses. What's more, closing America off to the world would leave it more vulnerable to the next big shock.

A girl doing schoolwork on a laptop computer, photo by ijeab/Getty Images

Photo by ijeab/Getty Images

Online Learning Doesn't Have to Be Impersonal

Both educators and parents are getting a lot of guidance on how to teach students whose classrooms are suddenly at home and online. But kids' needs aren't just academic. It's also important to support their social and emotional well-being—especially during this difficult time. Our experts have highlighted some insights from past RAND research that may help school staff and leadership ensure that social and emotional needs don't go overlooked. One key is to elevate the importance of one-on-one interactions between teachers and students.

A man walks near the Shalamcha Border Crossing, after Iraq shut borders to travelers moving between Iraq and Iran, March 8, 2020, photo by Essam Al Sudani/Reuters

A man walks near the Shalamcha Border Crossing, after Iraq shut borders to travelers moving between Iraq and Iran, March 8, 2020

Photo by Essam Al Sudani/Reuters

How Will the Pandemic Affect the Middle East?

COVID-19 is sure to have transformational effects everywhere—including the Middle East. But the outbreak is unlikely to produce new strategic dynamics in the region, says RAND's Dalia Dassa Kaye. Rather, the crisis will likely reinforce negative trends that already exist. These include tensions between the United States and Iran, increased Chinese and Russian engagement in the Middle East, and humanitarian catastrophes. And although there is a possibility of some diplomatic openings in the wake of this pandemic, the Middle East is likely to remain on a bleak strategic path, says Kaye.

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