Study shows why coronavirus disproportionately affects low income communities

There are some new answers as to the reason why more people in lower-income neighborhoods see higher numbers of COVID-19 cases diagnosed than in other communities.

Researchers have been looking into the issue for months and published their findings in the journal Nature Tuesday.

Restaurants, gyms, and coffee shops could account for as many as 80 percent of positive cases. That problem increases when packing more people into tighter spaces. But that could also be the reason low-income communities are seeing a disproportionate number of cases.

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“Right now, there’s a lot of transmission in those communities,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease expert at Baptist Memorial Hospital. “And it’s going up, it’s not going down.”

The study was conducted by Stanford University, Northwestern University, and Microsoft Research.

“About 10 percent of the places or things that we do account for about 80 percent of the actual cases and transmission,” Threlkeld said.

The study used cell phone data gathered at the onset of the pandemic, between March and May, to track 98 million people in 10 large American cities—Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC.

Restaurants accounted for the largest share of cases, but rates were twice as high in eight of the 10 cities at grocery stores in low-income areas.

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“They had fewer grocery stores per area servicing the community and they had more people therefore in those grocery stores,” Threlkeld said.

Another reason for the higher case numbers, according to Threlkeld, is because of what’s likely a higher concentration of essential workers. In fact, the study found, grocers in low-income areas had almost 60 percent more people inside.

“If you have to be an essential worker in one of those places and then you have to go to a grocery store, that is a little more crowded,” said Threlkeld.

Threlkeld said the solution is complicated, tackling such thorny issues as getting more people affordable housing.

There are answers in the short term, he said, like educating people on the correct way to wear masks, when they should be worn, and making sure people adhere to distancing when indoors.

RELATED: CDC revises mask guidance, says masks offer two-way protection

A spokesman for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said: “nothing is off the table.”

“…(Gov. Lee) believes statewide, one-size-fits-all government mandates are not the best way to achieve sustainable compliance from individuals, as they are more likely to trust local leaders and that local leaders know the unique needs of their communities best,” said Gillum Ferguson, the governor’s press secretary.

The statement re-iterated that 21 counties in Tennessee, “representing 62.7% of the state’s population, have a local mask requirement in place.”

The statement noted, “there’s nothing preventing individuals from wearing (face coverings) or individual businesses from requiring (face coverings) on their premises.”

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