Dr. Jarvis T. Chen, Pamela D. Waterman, and Dr. Nancy Krieger have recently published a new working paper, “COVID-19 and the unequal surge in mortality rates in Massachusetts, by city/town and ZIP Code measures of poverty, household crowding, race/ethnicity,and racialized economic segregation”. Their analysis has also been featured in The Boston Globe’s “Disparities Push Coronavirus Death Rates Higher”.
Despite the paucity of adequate data on race/ethnicity – and no data on socioeconomic position – in US national data on COVID-19 mortality, both investigative journalism and some state and local health departments are beginning to document evidence of the greater mortality burden of COVID-19 on communities of color and low-income communities. To date, such documentation has been in relation to deaths categorized as due to COVID-19. However, in a context when assignment of cause of death to COVID-19 is dynamic and incomplete, given developing scientific evidence, one important strategy for assessing differential impacts of COVID-19 is that of evaluating the overall excess of deaths, as compared to the same time period in prior years. We employ this approach in this working paper and provide a transparent, easy-to-replicate methodology that relies on the reported data (i.e., no model-based estimates or complex modeling assumptions) and that can be readily used by any local or state health agency to monitor the social patterning of excess mortality rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Key findings are that the surge in excess death rates, both relative and absolute, was evident starting in early April, and was greater in city/towns and ZCTAs with higher poverty, higher household crowding, higher percentage of populations of color, and higher racialized economic segregation. These data provide the backbone to a story that is being published in the Boston Globe, with this Working Paper released following publication of this story (on May 9, 2020), available at:
Chen JT, Waterman P Krieger N. COVID-19 and the unequal surge in mortality rates in Massachusetts, by city/town and ZIP Code measures of poverty, household crowding, race/ethnicity,and racialized economic segregation. Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies Working Paper Series, Volume 19, Number 2. May 9, 2020. https://tinyurl.com/y7qzot3l
Graphic Credit: The Boston Globe