The people living in communities hardest hit by the coronavirus tend to be low-income, elderly, and those with underlying health issues. Recent data revealed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that older folks are by far the most vulnerable, accounting for 80% of fatal cases in China and the U.S.
COVID-19 patients with underlying health issues like heart disease are also at a greater risk of dying. Since wealth and health are frequently linked, the coronavirus could also hit low-income populations much harder than more affluent communities. People who struggle financially are more likely to have health issues and jobs that don’t allow them to work from home, further increasing their risk of complication and death.
“You start with those underlying conditions, and then each layer of this is just going to magnify that further,” John Zeiner, a University of Michigan epidemiologist tells NPR. “You may see disparities in who dies and who becomes ill.
During the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, people who lived in Chicago neighborhoods with low literacy rates were more likely to die than people living in neighborhoods with high literacy rates.
“Whenever there is a disaster I think, unfortunately, people with low income and in low-income groups always tend to be more impacted,” Pinar Keskinocak, an infectious disease expert from Georgia Institute of Technology tells NPR.
African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans also tend to be in the high-risk group for complications and death because they are more likely to have underlying health issues such as asthma and heart disease, says USA TODAY.
“The virus is an equal opportunity crisis — but the impact and the burden of this is not going to be shared equally,” says Dr. Ashwin Vasan, a public health expert and assistant professor at Columbia University in New York City. “Like most things in society, it’s going to be regressive. It’s going to be felt disproportionately by the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized and obviously that falls down in this country on communities of color.”
Those in rural areas may have a hard time traveling to get adequate care, such as finding a hospital with a ventilator, which can be especially dangerous if they are experiencing shortness of breath. And while the push for social distancing may make big cities seem like the deadliest environment for the virus, statistics show the risk of death for individuals goes up dramatically when homes are sparse, according to The Washington Post.
Very rural areas have a 60% higher death rate from flu than big metropolitan areas, according to CDC death records.
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