New survey shows how COVID-19 is impacting basic needs, mental health, and social supports in King County

The coronavirus pandemic has brought dramatic changes to our lives – beyond the illness and death directly caused by the virus. Rising unemployment, increased needs for food assistance, and remote schooling are all economic and social impacts of COVID-19 that go beyond the daily counts of new cases or deaths.

New data from the Washington State Community Recovery Oriented Needs Assessment (CORONA) survey show how widespread these impacts are.

Nearly 9,200 King County residents responded to the CORONA survey in August and September of last year. People could respond online or over the phone, and the survey was available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Somali, Russian, and Tagalog.  People needing assistance in other languages could also call to get assistance responding in additional languages. The survey was publicized through many of the community task forces and community advisory groups that have been supporting Public Health’s response to the pandemic.

The survey was not a representative sampling of King County, so the data only tell us about the experiences of people who chose to respond. Overall, the survey included 27 questions on a variety of topics, and additional results are available to explore online. Results can be viewed by demographics such as race/ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, and employment sector.   

With a large number of responses, the overall results are concerning:

  • Basic needs: 1 in 4 respondents said that COVID-19 impacted their ability to pay for essential needs like rent/mortgage, utilities, or groceries. This impact tripled for respondents without a high school degree. Renters or lower income households were particularly challenged.  
  • Food: About 1 in 6 of survey respondents said that sometimes, their food didn’t last and they didn’t have money to buy more. This was particularly a challenge for people of color, with 40% of Hispanic respondents, 30% of American Indian and Alaska Native respondents, and 25% of Asian respondents and Black respondents experiencing food insecurity.  
  • Healthcare: 1 in 10 people said they needed medications but couldn’t get them because of COVID-19.
  • Mental health: 1 in 4 adults shared that they had experienced poor mental health on at least 14 days in the past month (sometimes called “frequent mental distress”). Families experienced challenges as well, as 13% of adults reported that they were not handling the day-to-day demands of raising children well. More than half of parents said their children were experiencing more social and emotional challenges and difficulties than usual.  
  • Changes: Almost all survey respondents reported making changes to their lives and behavior due to COVID-19, with 95% reporting practicing social distancing, 81% changing travel plans to minimize non-essential travel, and only 1% reporting that they didn’t make any changes.  Commonly reported changes included wearing a mask, minimizing non-essential trips, and avoiding crowds as recommended. In describing how life has changed, one respondent summarized: “Wearing a mask when I’m outside where I might encounter others.” While many respondents made positive changes, like exercising more, many also engaged in unhealthy habits like overeating or substance use. Many people experienced changes to their work, ranging from telecommuting to losing jobs or experiencing hardships in their business. One person shared, “I’ve lost two jobs because of COVID.”
  • Support: In the face of these challenges, community members have been stepping up to help care for one another. Half of respondents said they received support from others to help stay healthy, and that was true across all races/ethnicities. Support from friends and family were cited as important strategies for helping to cope. Some respondents appreciated spending additional time with family, friends, and community members. Even during this challenging time, respondents described positive things that happened in their lives.  As one person described some positive changes, “Quality family time, lots of time outdoors, chance to slow down and learn new things.”  

As the pandemic continues, caring for ourselves and each other will continue to be essential. The survey results are being shared with planners for local government agencies and with community organizations, who are working to reduce impacts on families and individuals in the areas listed above – and ultimately to help our communities recover from the impacts.

If you or someone you know is facing challenges similar to those described above, the following resources may be helpful:

This survey was conducted in partnership with the Washington State Department of Health. Explore additional King County data from the CORONA survey in detail, including demographic characteristics at

Originally published Jan. 5, 2021