Methods: Employing a purposive sample design, Black adults from 2 urban cities and 1 rural setting in Arizona were recruited to participate in focus groups. Semi-structured interviews were conducted via zoom and sampled the following domains: losses/gains during the pandemic; adaptations made to protect self and others; the role of race in pandemic-related experiences; emotional toll and ongoing needs. All recordings were transcribed verbatim and analyzed, using an inductive thematic analysis approach.
Results: Data were collected from 32 (N = 5 focus groups) Black adults, aged 20 to 78 years (mean age=53 +15.8 years). Participants were predominantly female (68%). A preview of key themes that emerged among individuals and organizations: 1) Concern for self or familial pre-existing health conditions and the “care-freeness” of others required extreme vigilance in observing one’s own virus mitigation strategies, 2) racist interactions were experienced in the context of new social rules during the pandemic (e.g., physical distancing), requiring Black Americans to adapt and armor for new microaggressions; 3) Black leaders and organizations (e.g., Greek organizations, churches, educators) have always been “essential workers” to Black communities, serving as alternative affirmation spaces and the bridge to medical and social support services, and, 4) Social networks were working in overdrive during the pandemic, and exacted a steep mental and financial toll.
Conclusions and Implications: Our findings suggest that COVID-19 required Black adults in both urban and rural communities of the Southwest to experience racism and microagressions associated with COVID-19 practices of masking and social distancing. Cultural- and community-specific protective adaptations were developed and implemented by existing leaders and key family members (e. g. those associated with medical field) in the way of emotional, instrumental and informational support. Historically, Black individuals and communities have demonstrated immense resiliency, but not without disproportionate costs to health. Resourcing these entities with equitable financial supports and community specific services may be needed. Future research on the perceived impact of added demands placed on community leaders and associated organizations (stress of the pandemic, existing health disparities, racism and the associated cultural taxation) is warranted.