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.

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