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A New Key Risk Factor For COVID-19 Infection Identified

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Many low-income workers face additional COVID-19 risks.

Recent research highlights why only a mask mandate and economic measures can save the lives of people who have this newly identified key risk factor for COVID-19 infection.

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COVID Risk Factors

Risky behaviors such as a lack of social distancing, placing yourself within large groups, infrequent hand washing and non-compliance with wearing a face mask in public are the reasons for increases in infection and transmission of COVID-19.

Couple that with the five risk factors of metabolic syndrome: hypertension, diabetes, high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol, and excess abdominal fat demonstrating a convincing association with mortality from COVID-19, we would expect that this would be enough to modify human behavior long enough to contain the spread of COVID.

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Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Researchers have recently identified an additional risk factor for contracting and transmitting COVID-19 that supports mask mandating—living in a low-income neighborhood.

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Work From Home Option Disparity

What the researchers determined is that it’s not so much a matter of the behaviors of individuals in low-income neighborhoods, but the fact that most of them do not have the option of working from home that higher-income individuals benefit from.

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"While people in high-income neighborhoods retreated to home offices, people in low-income neighborhoods had to continue to go to work—and their friends, family, and neighbors had to do the same," says study co-author Dr. Jacob Bor, assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at BUSPH. "Living in a low-income neighborhood is likely a key risk factor for COVID-19 infection."

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Evidence that this is more of an economic-based risk factor rather than a behavioral one is that the researchers found that individuals as a whole in poorer neighborhoods actually displayed the same level of behavior as individuals from upper income neighborhoods when it came to limiting their exposure risk to COVID-19 by adopting physical distancing measures.

"If lower-income people were simply ignoring the trend towards physical distancing, we would have expected them to continue going to places like supermarkets, liquor stores, and parks at the same rates as before. Instead, their visits dropped at almost the same rates as the very highest-income group," says the study’s lead author Dr. Jonathan Jay.

"This indicates that lower income people were just as aware and motivated as higher-income people to protect themselves from COVID-19, but simply couldn't stay home as much because they needed to go to work."

"The difference in physical distancing between low- and high-income neighborhoods during the lockdown was just staggering," added Dr. Bor.

Low-Income Neighborhoods Need Better Protection Measures

The researchers concluded that their findings indicate the need for new measures that enable lower-income residents to protect themselves through physical distancing. Policy options they recommend include restricting evictions, banning utility shut-offs, making unemployment insurance more readily available, and mandating paid sick leave. They noted that, “…While these measures have not been adopted as widely as stay-at-home orders and non-essential business closures, they appear necessary to a more equitable COVID-19 response.”

For more about the problems with containing the pandemic, here is an informative article about Why Distancing and Masks are Not Enough to Protect The Public.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Frank McKenna on Unsplash

References:

Physical distancing polices not enough to protect lower-income people" Boston University School Of Medicine news release”

Neighbourhood income and physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States” Jay, J., Bor, J., Nsoesie, E.O. et al. Nature Human Behavior 3 Nov. 2020.

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