People already struggling to pay energy bills are being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Sanya Carley and David Konisky, researchers on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus. Energy insecurity, or the inability to pay an energy bill, has long been a problem among low-income households in the United States, but a new survey found that COVID-19 is having a significant impact on an already vulnerable population. The survey found that people of color, those living in poverty, and households with children and the elderly are more likely to miss payments of their energy bills: 22 percent of respondents had to reduce or forgo basic household needs, like medicine or food, to pay an energy bill. Nearly 20 percent said they were not paying their rent or mortgage at all, and about 40 percent indicated the pandemic had harmed their ability to seek medical care. COVID-19 has made an existing problem worse, according to the researchers. As people continue to stay at home throughout the hot summer months, the most vulnerable households will find it difficult to afford monthly expenses, including energy bills. And even more troubling, the increasing energy demands of summer combined with reduced income is likely to move a new population of households into energy insecurity.
In other news, recent water crises such as the one in Flint, Michigan, have put a spotlight on lead in drinking water. A team led by Indiana University researcher Jackie MacDonald Gibson, a professor in the IU School of Public Health in Bloomington, found that children in homes relying on private well water are 25 percent more likely to have elevated blood lead levels than children in homes served by community water. Lead is known to contribute to irreversible impairments in exposed children, and lead exposure before age 7 has been associated with decreased IQ, poor performance in school, and increased risk of behavioral problems. In the United States, 42.5 million people -- 13 percent of the population -- depend on unregulated private wells. The IU study found that children relying on private wells had blood lead concentrations 20 percent higher, on average, than children with community water service. The study also found that blood lead concentrations and risks of elevated blood lead were higher among children in older or lower-valued homes, in areas with a higher percentage of non-Hispanic Black residents, and in neighborhoods excluded from nearby municipal services. The researchers say more education and support are needed, including financial and technical support to help households and communities solve problems of lead in water and lead screening questionnaires for pediatricians to ask about their patients’ water sources.
Finally, months of staying at home have led to a pandemic of housecleaning, as IU’s Nicole Keith recently discussed with Jane Pauley on CBS Sunday Morning. Keith, who is president of the American College of Sports Medicine and a professor in the School of Health & Human Sciences at IUPUI, pointed out that as we tackle our to-do lists, we’re also moving large groups of muscles, engaging in physical activity that makes us feel better and has a positive impact on our health. Being physically active while we keep our homes tidy may reduce our chances of developing risk factors for cardiovascular disease and also reduce the effect of risk factors that already exist. And house cleaning is good for our mental health as well, says Keith. While vacuuming, organizing, and cleaning out the garage gets our heart rates going, the sense of accomplishment in completing those tasks also makes us feel great. Cleaning, during a pandemic or otherwise, is simply good for our bodies and our brains.