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New research explores pandemic's impact on Scott County residents

New research exploring COVID-19’s impact on Scott County reveals disparities in how the pandemic impacted local residents, but the study’s findings also illustrate a sense of optimism for the community’s recovery.

The COVID-19 impact assessment, completed in partnership with the University of Minnesota and Scott County Public Health, examines the overall health of local residents by exploring financial stability, mental health, physical health and other areas.

The survey-based research, conducted this summer, found several racial and economic disparities in the pandemic’s impact on local residents.

Dr. Gina Erickson, Scott County’s data planner for the research, presented the findings to the Scott County Board of Commissioners earlier this month.

The survey’s 405 respondents tended to be more racially diverse and younger than the county’s overall demographic, according to Erickson. However, she said, that was by design as researchers hoped to include populations that are often missed.

Researchers connected with local residents at places such as coffee shops, ethnic markets and vaccine clinics and surveys were conducted in English, Spanish and Somali.

PHYSICAL HEALTH

While nearly 90% of respondents describe their overall health as good, very good or excellent, there’s been a significant increase in the percentage of residents reporting fair or poor health, according to Erickson.

This year, the number of residents who reported being in fair or poor health was nearly twice as high as a local survey found in 2014.

“It’s significantly higher than our pre-COVID levels,” Erickson said.

Around 20% of survey respondents reported their physical health had gotten worse during the pandemic.

“For those who were already in poor or fair health, they were more likely to report the declines in health over the course of the pandemic,” Erickson said.

One contributing factor may be delays in seeking medical care during the pandemic.

More than a quarter of respondents reported delaying or foregoing dental care and around 19% reported impacts to their preventative or medical care.

Around 11% of respondents reported delaying or foregoing mental health care, and these respondents were more likely to cite access issues than concerns over the virus itself.

Of respondents who had COVID-19, around 15% reported dealing with a new health issue after the virus.

MENTAL HEALTH

Around 19% of survey respondents reported their mental health had worsened due to the pandemic.

Of these respondents, 1 in 7 reported a depressed mood and more than 1 in 10 reported they’d considered self-harm or suicide during the last year.

“These are concerning numbers for us,” Erickson said.

The survey found that those reporting “other” as their race — including Asian American, Native American and Native Hawaiian populations — were more likely to report they’d seriously considered self-harm of suicide compared to white, Black and Hispanic respondents.

The survey also found differences based on income.

Findings showed respondents earning $50,000 or less were more likely to have considered self-harm or suicide than respondents at higher income levels.

Of all survey respondents who reported increasing their substance use during the pandemic, more than 60% attributed the increase to stress.

Another 57% of respondents cited boredom, around 36% cited mental health concerns and roughly 29% cited loneliness.

“Substance use is increasing largely because of stress-related or other mental health-related reasons,” Erickson said, adding men were more than twice as likely as women to increase substance use.

The largest increases were seen in alcohol use, according to the study. Smaller increases were seen in tobacco and marijuana use, and around 2% of respondents reported an increase in other types of drug use.

In addition to increased substance use, the study found men were more likely than women to report negative impacts to their social well-being, including lost connections with family and neighbors.

FINANCIAL STABILITY

In looking at financial stability, the survey found around 25% of respondents reported their financial situation had worsened during the pandemic and around 15% of respondents said their financial situation improved.

Medical bills and rent or mortgage payments were among respondents’ top financial concerns.

“Like with other areas here, we see that disparities were worse for those with lower incomes,” Erickson said.

The findings showed local residents earning $100,000 or more were significantly more likely to see their financial situation improve while those earning $50,000 or less were more likely to see their financial situation worsen.

Nearly half of respondents who reported a negative impact on their financial situation cited job loss.

Around 6% of respondents attributed the impact on their financial situation to COVID-19, whether it was due to recovering from the virus or caring for someone with the virus.

More of half of survey respondents who reported having a child, or are expecting, said they are concerned of their child falling behind on reading.

Adequate childhood nutrition and access to childcare were also top concerns among parents.

LOOKING AHEAD

Despite the pandemic’s impact on well-being, the survey found most Scott County residents feel hopeful about the future.

Around 75-85% of people said they agreed or strongly agreed that they can count on their community to fully recover.

“That speaks well to Scott County,” Erickson said.


Prior Lake senior Julia Hanson became the school’s all-time leader in kills earlier this year.


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Protesters rally at Prior Lake High School in response to racist video

Students, activists and community members gathered outside of Prior Lake High School on Nov. 11 to stage a peaceful protest supporting a student of color who was allegedly targeted in a racist video posted on social media earlier this week by a fellow classmate.

High school students were dismissed early from class around 12:45 p.m. ahead of the protest.

Nya Sigin, who has identified herself as the alleged target of the video, publicly condemned the video and thanked all her supporters for showing up and voicing their concerns and stories.

“I am 14 years old. I am a child. I have had to deal with racism in my city for as long as I can remember,” said Sigin during the protest. “I am so thankful for everyone showing up. You don’t understand how much this means to me and my family. This is where we can create real change.”

Sigin also took to her Instagram account on Thursday to express her gratitude for the outpouring of love and support from people across the nation.

“Everyone who came up and spoke, shared your experiences with racism, discrimination and all-around utter hate from the people around you just because of the color of your skin, touched every single one of our hearts, around the country,” Sigin stated. “The bravery you all had to come out and share your stories is so inspiring to so many people and I really hope you know that. Thank you everyone who has supported me.”

During the rally, several students from PLHS and surrounding districts, shared their personal experiences with racism and said they plan to attend the next Prior Lake-Savage Area School Board meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 22, to demand the students involved in the video be disciplined.

“I was the first person to post the video on Instagram. When I posted it, I didn’t expect all that attention. I just wanted it to reach something or someone,” said Dago Abebaw, a supporter of the protest. “The things in the video are very vile. Hearing things like that, especially at a young age, is very damaging and it sticks with a person. When someone is telling you to end your life and calling you the ‘N’ word, that’s hurtful. This isn’t something she’s going to go to bed at night and forget about. This is going to affect her the rest of her life. The words you say to people matter, your actions matter and what you do matters.”

The video features a teen girl, who district officials have identified as a PLHS student, repeatedly saying racial slurs and encouraging the target of the video to take her own life.

Achai Deng, Sigin’s cousin and a sophomore at PLHS, said she wanted to help organize the protest because Sigin is family and she has also experienced personal racism.

“What happened in that video is not right and it should never happen again. No one ever should have to go through that at all,” Deng told the Prior Lake American. “Nya has beautiful dark skin like chocolate. That’s my little sister, she’s just beautiful and she’s such a nice person. It’s sad to see what happens to good people. Me and her used to talk about our situations being dark skinned and it’s just sad to see.”

A GoFundMe, which was widely shared by civil rights activist and journalist Shaun King, has now reached over $100,000.

PRESS CONFERENCE

That same day, local city and school district officials held a press conference at Savage City Hall.

Savage Police Chief Rodney Seurer, who described the video as “horrific,” “hateful” and “racist,” said detectives were continuing to conduct follow-up interviews as the department works with the Scott County Attorney’s Office on the investigation.

“This is not tolerated here,” Seurer said.

During the press conference, Superintendent Teri Staloch declined to comment on the enrollment status of the students involved in the incident, citing the pending investigation.

“I understand the desire for consequences and [to know] what happened to the person — and that will come out,” she said.

PUBLIC OFFICIALS RESPOND

Statements from public officials condemning the video continued to filter in last week.

“As a historically welcoming community, the racist and hateful video shared this week on social media hurt us as a whole,” Savage Mayor Janet Williams said in a statement on Nov. 11.

“Our school resource officers and detectives are working with the PLSAS school administration, the Sioux community and Scott County Attorney’s office to thoroughly investigate this matter and take appropriate action,” Williams stated.

Additionally, Williams highlighted the city’s work in hosting Community Conversations on Race events for the past three years and recently forming a Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to advise the Savage City Council on issues of racial equity.

“They will have a significant role in building a stronger community,” she wrote. “We will work with our partners to talk about race and destigmatize mental illness as Nya asked us to do!”

Prior Lake Mayor Kirt Briggs released a statement on Nov. 11, denouncing racism and stating that the community has important work ahead.

“The video does not reflect the values of our Prior Lake community. And yet, we must acknowledge that it originated here, and that there is still important work that needs to be done,” Briggs said. “We need to advance open conversations on racism to better understand one another and our experiences. This is the only way to create a path forward to strengthen and unite us.”

State and federal lawmakers have also responded to the video.

Minnesota Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake) released a statement on Nov. 11.

“The sentiments stated by the student in the video are absolutely not indicative of our community’s values, and the student should be held accountable for her actions. I grew up in this community — I’ve raised my family in this community, and this display of harmful rhetoric is not indicative of the values of the community I know and love,” Pratt said. “All students deserve to be supported in times of need, and I am hopeful that Prior Lake High School will take the steps necessary to hold the students involved accountable for their actions. We have to teach our kids to do better.”

On Twitter, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig called the video horrific.

“I’m proud to stand with Nya,” Craig wrote. “Racism has no place in our community, and no one should be subject to this kind of harmful and bigoted rhetoric. We must not accept this behavior in our communities.”

Reporter Christine Schuster contributed to this report.


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