Where and How You Live Makes a Difference

While it’s no secret that a pandemic affects all kinds of people in all kinds of places, Covid-19’s impact on different demographic groups and in different geographic locations varies. While no person is guaranteed safety from infection, how and where you live, the density of your community and your overall health all may determine how vulnerable you and your family may be to the novel coronavirus.

Common sense, and daily news reports, tell us that Covid-19 seems to take its biggest toll in large urban areas, where density is the highest. Most Americans (62.7 percent) live in cities.  Indeed, New York City, often described as the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, is the nation’s most densely populated city. According to the United States Census Bureau, 28,000 people per square mile live in New York City. Compare this to Chicago, with 11,942 people per square mile, or Washington D.C., with 10,573 people per square mile. So, while other important factors, such as New York’s status as an international travel destination, have a huge effect on Covid-19 spread, density is key. 

But, as Richard Florida points out, there are different types of urban density, and those differences are significant. 

“Places can be dense and still provide places for people to isolate and be socially distant,” he writes. “Simply put, there is a huge difference between rich dense places, where people can shelter in place, work remotely, and have all of their food and other needs delivered to them, and poor dense places, which push people out onto the streets, into stores and onto crowded transit with one another.”

Florida points out, for example, that Covid-19 infection rates in the outlying boroughs of New York City are considerably higher than in more upscale Manhattan. And that infection rates in San Francisco, where highly educated citizens tend to have the means to work remotely and avoid close contact with others, is comparatively lower.

Interestingly, as the pandemic has raged on, rural areas are becoming more and more affected by the virus, again, in communities where social distancing is near-impossible, as in several meat producing plants, and those where outside visitors come for recreation and ability to stay at home is limited. 

No matter where they live, Covid-19 takes a higher toll on seniors and those with underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and chronic lung and heart disease. As researchers have found, factors that make you more likely to suffer from one of these underlying conditions include “being male, older, African American, American Indian, household income <$25,000, < high school education, underinsurance, living in the South or Midwest (vs. West), plus the risk factors of ever smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption.”

According to the CDC, 56% of Americans suffer from at least one of these conditions, which, while they don’t increase the risk of catching Covid-19, statistically lead to more severe illness and fatalities. Even if you’re young, healthy and live in the country, keep safety concerns front of mind when it comes to protect yourself and others from Covid-19.

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