Two factory workers in safety gear and masks, female scanning a male for temperature with a digital thermometer

Summer Scholars to Study COVID-19 Racial Disparities in Iowa


A team of summer scholars in residence will study the impact of political representation on COVID-19 racial and ethnic disparities in Iowa. Julianna Pacheco, senior research fellow in the Politics and Policy and Health Policy Research Programs; Nicole Novak, assistant research scientist of community and behavioral health in the College of Public Health; and Mark Berg, director of and senior research fellow in the Crime and Justice Policy Research Program, make up the interdisciplinary team doing the research. At the end of the project, they aim to have a first draft of a manuscript summarizing their analysis, and a plan to disseminate their findings to affected communities and policymakers in Iowa.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had disproportionate health and financial impacts for Black and Latino communities nationwide. In Iowa and other rural states, minority residents of rural communities with meatpacking plants have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although these patterns are well established, there is less evidence on community-level factors that may mitigate the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on rural minority populations. It is possible that the presence of racial/ethnic minorities serving on local city councils or school boards could mitigate COVID-19 impacts for minority populations by ensuring better communication, access and advocacy for their needs. To test whether political representation and community organizations mitigate the pandemic’s impact on minority populations in rural communities, we use the Iowa Small Towns Project (ISTP) survey on COVID-19 health outcomes (n=12,716) coupled with data on local political representation. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the ISTP surveyed residents in 73 small towns across Iowa about the physical, mental, and financial impacts of COVID-19; these questions, when compared across race/ethnicity, serve as our main dependent variables on health disparities on COVID-19 outcomes. Over the course of our 4-week residency, our interdisciplinary team of a political scientist, an epidemiologist and a sociologist will systematically document local political representation of racial/ethnic minorities and analyze ISTP data in conjunction with this new data.