COVID-19: Risks for Urban Residents Appear Much Higher – Why?

The risks from Covid-19 virus infections appear to be much elevated among residents in urban areas like Southwest
The risks from Covid-19 virus infections appear to be much elevated among residents in urban areas like Southwest

Have you checked on the wellbeing of one of your elderly neighbors recently?  

That’s one way that ordinary people can help our overworked health professionals in dealing with some of the people proving to be the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus – and its extraordinary impact on people of color.

African Americans are dying from COVID-19 infections at a higher rate than other ethnic groups.  

That’s the conclusion of Dr. Nancy Krieger PhD, a professor who studies epidemics at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health in Boston.  

Dr. Krieger has been studying the higher rates of many diseases among black people for a long time.  

 These include obesity, diabetes, heart problems, and sadly diseases like asthma which affect the lungs. Such conditions represent a dangerous “precondition” when someone becomes infected by the deadly new coronavirus.

According to Dr. Krieger, the higher numbers of blacks dying when they contract COVID-19 are similar to the health inequities which have existed for many years. The virus “is pulling a thread that is showing … the very different conditions in which we live because of social structures that are inequitable… By pulling the thread, it’s revealing patterns that have long been known in public health.”

These health inequities particularly affect minorities who live in poverty-ridden urban areas such as Philadelphia. It is in places like Kingsessing and Elmwood where people live in crowded conditions, go to work using public transportation, and earn their living in jobs which force them to work closely together.  

In addition to the higher rates of diseases that make them vulnerable to COVID-19, urban residents are less likely to have access to health care and health insurance.

Harvard Chan School also notes that such places [like Southwest] have been at risk due to their closeness to industrial areas that produce high levels of air pollution which early data indicate are connected with death from COVID-19.

Krieger added that the higher risks of infection are strongly associated with conditions in which people are living close together like nursing homes for the elderly and prisons. She recommended such steps as the early release of non-violent offenders, checking regularly on elderly people who are isolated in their houses or nursing homes, taking care of the needs of the homeless, and educating people on how to keep safe, in multiple languages.

Isaac Chotiner, New Yorker Magazine: “The Interwoven Threads of Inequality and Health” April 14, 2020.  (Photo courtesy of Nursing Home Abuse Guide).

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