People living in disadvantaged and racially segregated neighborhoods may be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 deaths, according to a Duquesne University study.

One of the first studies of its kind, the research explores how COVID-19 can potentially affect segregated populations by looking at data from more than 3,100 counties in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The study's results were recently published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.

"Counties with a higher proportion of the population residing in racially or socioeconomically segregated neighborhoods had disproportionately higher COVID-19 deaths," said Ahmad Khanijahani, researcher and assistant professor of health administration and public health at Duquesne. "And living in both a low socioeconomic and segregated Black neighborhood was associated with even higher COVID-19 mortalities."

Several characteristics of highly segregated Black and low-socioeconomic neighborhoods can increase the risk factors of coronavirus infection and death, Khanijahani said.

"At the individual level, Black and low-income individuals are more likely to be employed as essential workers, placing them at greater risk to COVID-19," he said. "These individuals are also disproportionally impacted by homelessness or reside in housing units with limited space that makes isolating infected family members difficult or impossible."

Environmental factors, such as higher air pollution levels and living closer to factories and waste dumps, are more likely to be present in racially and socioeconomically segregated neighborhoods, Khanijahani added. Higher levels of air pollution are associated with increased COVID-19 deaths.

Segregated socioeconomic areas were defined by the percentages of the population living below the federal poverty level; households on public assistance; female-headed households; unemployment rates; and adults over 25 years old whose education was less than a high school degree.

The study may be helpful to public health policymakers and practitioners, who could use the results to identify areas where increased education and support are needed.

"Our findings underscore the need to consider neighborhood-level characteristics in designing and implementing COVID-19 interventions," Khanijahani said. "For example, we may need to re-think about the infrastructure needed to distribute the testing kits and vaccines in these neighborhoods, where many people may not have a convenient means of transportation to a health center."

The study reflects Duquesne's strength in analyzing research data to both expand student horizons and improve community health. The University's Rangos School of Health Sciences is the only university in the Pittsburgh area to offer an undergraduate public health degree.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 8,000 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University's academic programs, community service and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim.

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February 16, 2021