Study: Lower Income Neighborhoods Experience Higher COVID-19 Impact


A new study shows indicators of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, including testing rates, positivity ratio, case rates by overall population, and deaths, are clustered by neighborhood, with low-income and predominantly minority communities experiencing worse outcomes. The study is the first examining data on tests, cases, and deaths per zip code from the health departments of Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, according to a press release.

Researchers compared the neighborhood-level data on the pandemic’s impact to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) 2018 Social Vulnerability Index, including socioeconomic status, household data, minority status, language spoken, housing type, and transportation. The study examines areas of high COVID-19 concentration and shows that positivity, incidence, and mortality are concentrated in specific zip codes strongly associated with social vulnerability, according to the authors.

"We've been documenting the potential existence of these disparities from the early days of the pandemic," said lead author Usama Bilal, PhD, MD, an assistant professor in Drexel's Dornsife School of Public Health, in the release. "Now we have comprehensive data on some of the deadly effects from residential segregation, structural and environmental racism and economic injustice in the ongoing pandemic."

Testing, positive case rate, total confirmed cases, and deaths were correlated by zip code, with large clusters of positive cases and deaths found in lower income, predominantly minority neighborhoods defined as more vulnerable by the CDC, according to the study.

“We've seen similar disparities with HIV and other health problems, but the pattern becomes clearer in an international health emergency that would be hard to control if it's not controlled everywhere,” Bilal said in the release. “We need more testing, vaccination, but also better working conditions with expanded access to personal protective equipment, paid sick leave and more investment in low-income communities.”

The authors of the study said the inequities are likely much larger than reported as a result of a lack of systematic widespread testing in many cities across the United States.


Your neighborhood may influence your COVID-19 risk [news release]. EurekAlert; March 29, 2021. Accessed April 6, 2021.

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