Older Age, Asthma, Black Population Influence County-Level COVID-19 Fatality

An interview with a study author on unique associations between county infrastructures and COVID-19 fatality rates.

New data presented at the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) 2021 World Microbe Forum this week showed county-level factors for heightened risk of COVID-19 mortality included increased rates of asthmatic patients, Black persons, and persons aged ≥65 years old in the community.

The findings—which elucidate how county-level factors including total hospitals, insurance rates, and mobile home population rates were associated with fatalities in the first wave of US COVID-19 outbreaks last year—may help provide unique public health intervention targets prior to future outbreaks.

In an interview with Contagion during ASM 2021 regarding the findings, study author Jess Millar, graduate research assistant at the University of Michigan’s departments of Computational Medicine & Bioinformatics and Epidemiology, discussed their contribution to regional-level research and discussion around health inequality relative to the pandemic.

As she noted, previous research has established social determinants of health involved in the unequal impact of COVID-19 on Black and African-American communities—including structural racism’s effect on their access to financial resources, reliance on public transportation, housing instability, and reliance on low-paying retail jobs.

“Our approach considered several other variables that might help explain the effect, but were either non-signficant—such as household crowding, percentage of households without vehicle, and county land area—or were correlated with percentages of Black and African-Americans—such as percentage of single-parent households and percentage living in poverty—further emphasizing the role of systemic racism in COVID-19 case fatality rate,” Millar said.

Watch Millar’s interview with Contagion above.