COVID-19 & Poverty?

Recent news events indicate that African Americans are being hit harder by the COVID-19 virus than any other.  Louisiana has a population that is approximately 30% Black yet reports for the Louisiana Department of Health indicated that 70% of the COVID-19 deaths are from the African American population.  There are two intersecting explanations for the unfortunate effect on the population.  First, health differences or differences in natural susceptibility may be the sole cause.  Second, the fact that 30% of the Black population is in poverty compared to closer to 10% for the White population.  This paper looks at the interaction of poverty and COVID-19 cases. 

The data is available nationwide but it is easier to see the effect in a smaller area so Louisiana was selected. The data comes from ESRI visualization of the US Census American Community Survey for population/poverty estimates combined with John Hopkins University Live data for estimates for cases of COVID-19.  The following represents a snapshot of the data on April 11, 2020, because John Hopkins data do not estimate cases as a proportion of the population.  The maps were produced in ArcGIS. 

The first step considers the number of cases of COVID-19 versus the number of people in poverty by Parish (county).  It seems clear that COVID-19 cases correlate well to the number of people in poverty.  The problem is that the cases are highest in the population centers of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Shreveport, and Ruston. 

Number of COVID-19 Cases (circles) and the Number of People in Poverty by Parish

Understanding the real number of COVID-19 cases and in poverty is useful in allocating resources. It is less valuable to determine interaction. The more informative visualization is to look at COVID-19 per capita and the percent of people in poverty. 

COVID-19 Cases per capita (circles) and the Percent of People in Poverty by Parish

When you consider the size of the population, the impact on the population centers becomes far less dramatic. COVID-19 has its most significant impact in the relatively low poverty Parishes of Lafourche, St John the Baptist, St. Tammany, St. James, and St. Bernard in southeast Louisiana. 

Is there still a disproportional percent of African Americans living in the COVID-19 hotspots? Louisiana parishes with high black population Iberville, St. John the Baptist, and St. James have been hit hard.  So have Lafourche and St. Tammany Parishes with a lower percentage of African Americans. 

COVID-19 Cases per capita (circles) and the Percent of African Americans by Parish

The relationship between race and COVID-19 infections may be more complicated.  The effect of infections in population centers that have high Black populations such as New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport may have skewed the proportions.  The availability of testing in these population centers may have had and effect. There may be other reasons at play.  A simple analysis that combines multiple data sets may be revealing and essential to understanding the long-term inter-relationships between factors that affect the spread of the disease. 

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