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Study Find That Racial And Socioeconomic Segregation Are Predictors Of Higher COVID Fatality Rates

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
A COVID-19 testing site in Pittbsurgh's Perry South neighborhood.

A new study from Duquesne University says a county’s levels of both racial and socioeconomic segregation are predictors of its COVID-19 mortality rate.

Researchers analyzed Census tracts — which are roughly the size of a neighborhood — in 3,142 counties from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They found that the greater the level of a county’s segregation of Black residents, the more likely people in that county are to die of COVID-19. Specifically, for “every 10% increase in the percentage of county population residing in … Black-concentrated [Census] tracts” there was a 11% increase in COVID deaths.

A similar pattern was observed in counties with high levels of segregation along socioeconomic status, which was determined by a variety of factors, including an area’s poverty and unemployment levels, and its percentage of adults who do not have a high school diploma. Researchers found that for every 10% increase in an area’s concentration of people who were socioeconomically disadvantaged, there was a 14% increase in COVID fatalities.

Counties where residents were both underprivileged and racially segregated saw even worse outcomes. Public health researcher Ahmad Khanijahani, the study’s lead author, said this shows that the causes behind disparities are complex. Therefore, public health interventions need to take a community’s unique characteristics into account.

“It’s not one-size-fits all,"he said. "It’s more neighborhood specific."

Khanijahani said to address disparities in COVID fatalities, aspects that should be considered include a community’s transportation patterns, employment, environmental factors, such as air quality, and ongoing racial injustices in medical care and access.

The study was published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.