INDIANAPOLIS – The combination of threats from COVID-19 and extreme heat in many socially vulnerable communities across the United States is a real concern for public health officials, highlighting the need to better understand how aggravating factors can increase the risk of COVID-19.
In a new study published in GeoHealth, researchers and colleagues at IUPUI examined the relationships between COVID-19 cases and deaths, social vulnerability and environmental measures in 3,400 counties in the country’s 48 contiguous states. Their results show that from March 1 to December 31, 2020, COVID-19 affected different counties in the United States at different times, and the most socially vulnerable communities were most affected during the summer months. They also identified social and environmental risk factors that can put communities at higher risk.
âWe have been able to provide links between social vulnerability and the environmental determinants of COVID-19 that will help model new epidemics and reduce the impact of COVID-19 in our most vulnerable communities,â said Daniel Johnson, corresponding author on the study and associate professor of geography at the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. âWhile COVID-19 may not have as much of an impact in the future as it did in the beginning, it will likely be an annual concern for health authorities, and I hope they can use the models that I ‘ve built to identify the most vulnerable communities most at risk. “
Using 15 variables from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index and seven environmental factors, including temperature and humidity, Johnson and colleagues conducted a nationwide analysis using two models that compared county-level COVID-19 cases and deaths. This allowed them to visualize the monthly spread of COVID-19 across the country, county by county.
They studied each social vulnerability variable to determine which best predicted COVID-19 cases and deaths. Their results show that being a person of color or not having a high school diploma was the single most important factor in the increased risk of infection and death for county residents. For people 65 and over, their age contributed significantly to deaths but not cases.
Looking only at environmental measurements, their models showed that temperature had the greatest effect on a community’s risk of infection and death. The increase in temperature has reduced the risk of infection and death in most areas; however, this effect was not as pronounced in areas of greater social vulnerability.
“What I found most alarming was the way COVID-19 took hold in more socially vulnerable communities in June, July and August, when there is such worry about the heat. extreme felt at that time, âJohnson said. âThere is already so much stress on these communities, then COVID-19 has arrived, and they are under an increased threat from extreme heat, COVID-19, extreme precipitation and more. “
Looking at COVID-19-related deaths, researchers found that death rates followed the same pattern as cases but peaked around four to six weeks later – something they observed across the board. United States
Johnson and his team plan to continue this work, combining both social determinants of health and environmental factors to create a better system for predicting patterns of community risk.
The other authors of the study are Niranjan Ravi of the IUPUI and Christian Braneon of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
World-class UI researchers have spearheaded innovation and creative initiatives that have stood for 200 years. From curing testicular cancer to working with NASA to research life on Mars, IU has earned its reputation as a world-class research institution. Backed by $ 854 million last year from the federal government, foundations and other external backers, UI researchers are building collaborations and discovering new solutions that improve lives in Indiana and around the world .