Elizabeth Dugan, LICSW, and Liz Pino, PhD, Discuss Pandemic Violence Trends

Experts from the Violence Intervention Advocacy Program of the Boston Medical Center share insight from their research examining the spike of violence observed early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 saw rates of violence rise as public health measures like social distancing and stay-at-home orders were implemented to inhibit infection rates.

Research found that the first year of the pandemic resulted in a 32% increase in firearm injuries when compared with the 5 years prior. When focusing on the difference between the year beginning in March 2019, firearm injuries increased 51% in the following year.

Experts from the Violence Intervention Advocacy Program (VIAP) at the Boston Medical Center, who conducted the research, experienced this violence epidemic from the frontlines. VIAP offers guidance to victims of community violence through recovery from physical and emotional trauma.

Elizabeth Dugan, MSW, LICSW, Clinical Director, Violence Intervention Advocacy Program, Department of Emergency Medicine, Boston Medical Center, shared that the Violence Advocacy Intervention Program was still hands-on serving families in the community during the first stay-at-home orders and food insecurity was "off the charts".

"We never stopped providing services to the families," Dugan said. "It shifted to PPE distribution, COVID vaccination, education and intervention. Food insecurities were a huge need during this."

The pandemic put an enormous strain on the community and the staff of VIAP. Dugan explained that the research validated what they experienced during this time.

Elizabeth "Liz" Pino, PhD, Research Scientist, Violence Intervention Advocacy Program, Department of Emergency Medicine, Boston Medical Center, and lead investigator believes that the research can help develop innovative and evidence based programs that invest in these low income minority communities.

"I was also seeing some early data from a few other US trauma centers that suggested that the trends we were observing, were probably a nationwide public health issue," Pino said.

She explained that her research showed the greatest increase in gunshot wounds occurred among patients who were unemployed, male, and Hispanic. Though, Black patients continue to make up about 70% of firearm injuries.

Equitable resource allocation is an important component, especially when talking about health and racial inequities, according to Dugan. Other crises are addressed quickly and efficiently, she said, and it's time for the violence programming to be addressed like that.

"Violence is indeed a public health issue," Dugan said. "It was here before COVID appeared, it will be here long after COVID is, you know, stabilized."

The study "Trends in Violent Penetrating Injuries During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic" was published in JAMA.