Study: Poor Air Quality Fuels COVID Transmission

Communities exposed to higher levels of air pollution experience higher rates of infection, particularly in areas with high population density.

2 minute read

November 1, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Global warming and pollution

Chris_LeBoutillier / Pixabay

Shahla Farzan reports on new research from a dozen U.S. cities that reveals that "coronavirus spreads faster in areas with worse air pollution and higher population density," putting communities of color at higher risk for transmission. 

"Roughly one-third the size of a red blood cell, microscopic particles known as PM 2.5 penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a wide variety of illnesses. The dust-like pollution also reshapes the cells in our bodies, causing them to produce proteins that act as doorways. That allows the coronavirus to invade the cells," Farzan writes. This means that poor air quality can worsen COVID-19 symptoms, according to Rajan Chakrabarty, a Washington University aerosol scientist. Meanwhile, Farzan notes that "Black people and Latinos across the U.S. are exposed to higher-than- average levels of air pollution from nearly every source, including power plants, construction and agriculture. They are also two to three times as likely to die of COVID-19 than white people." Even when controlling for other factors, air pollution and population density were shown to have the biggest impact on transmission rates.

As we noted early in the pandemic, COVID-19 highlighted the damaging impacts of decades of disenfranchisement and disinvestment on communities of color and low-income households, who now face a growing set of interrelated challenges that include rising housing costs, inadequate infrastructure, and health hazards compounded by the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021 in St. Louis Public Radio

Black and white Rideshare Pick-Up Zone sign

The Slow Death of Ride Sharing

From the beginning, TNCs like Lyft and Uber touted shared rides as their key product. Now, Lyft is ending the practice.

June 1, 2023 - Human Transit

Urban sidewalk shaded by large mature trees

Cool Walkability Planning

Shadeways (covered sidewalks) and pedways (enclosed, climate controlled walkways) can provide comfortable walkability in hot climates. The Cool Walkshed Index can help plan these facilities.

June 1, 2023 - Todd Litman

Traffic on the 405 interstate freeway through the Sepulveda Pass at Getty Center Drive in Los Angeles, California

Congestion Pricing Could Be Coming to L.A.

The infamously car-centric city is weighing a proposed congestion pricing pilot program to reduce traffic and encourage public transit use.

May 30, 2023 - Los Angeles Times

Interstate 55 with cars and green freeway signs in Chicago, Illinois

Illinois Legislators Pass Controversial I-55 Road Expansion Legislation

Legislation to enable the addition of express toll lanes on Interstate 55 in the Southwest Side of Chicago, opposed by environmental justice advocates, cleared the Illinois General Assembly last month.

32 minutes ago - Chicago Tribune

Close-up of front og MARTA public transit bus in Atlanta, Georgia with logo wrap

What Is ‘Arterial Rapid Transit?’

Atlanta is planning to build ‘BRT lite,’ a version of bus service that offers signal priority and fewer stops but keeps buses in mixed-traffic lanes.

1 hour ago - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A picture of the Vermont State Capitol building with fall colors on display on trees in the background.

Vermont Latest State to Preempt Single-Family Zoning

The approval of the HOME law, S.100, will allow for duplexes in all residential neighborhoods in Vermont. Large swaths of residential zones in the state must also now allow tri- and four-plexes.

2 hours ago - VTDigger

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.