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Infectious Diseases

06 August 2020

Covid-19 spreads quickly in crowded homes and poor neighbourhoods

A study found that crowded households and poverty increased the spread of coronavirus, but population density had little apparent effect.

  • A team studied the connection between neighbourhood characteristics and infection with SARS-CoV-2
  • Crowded homes and poverty increased risk of infection
  • How densely populated the neighbourhoods were had little effect on the spread of infection


Poverty and crowded living conditions increase the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, a new study suggests.

Researchers reached that conclusion after testing nearly 400 women who gave birth at two hospitals in New York City during the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak.

"Our study shows that neighbourhood socioeconomic status and household crowding are strongly associated with risk of infection. This may explain why Black and Hispanic people living in these neighbourhoods are disproportionately at risk for contracting the virus," researcher Dr Alexander Melamed said in a Columbia University news release.

Melamed is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.

Specifically, Melamed's team studied the connection between neighbourhood characteristics and infection with the virus that causes Covid-19.

Population density not a big risk

The investigators found that women living in neighbourhoods with crowded households were three times more likely to be infected with the virus.

Poverty was also a factor. Women living in poor neighbourhoods were twice as likely to be infected, although this finding didn't reach statistical significance because of the small sample size, the researchers said.

Population density, however, didn't play a part in the risk for infection, they noted.

According to researcher Dr Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, "One may think that because New York City is so dense, there's little that can slow the spread of the virus, but our study suggests the risk of infection is related to household, rather than urban density." Gyamfi-Bannerman is a professor of women's health at Columbia.

"For our pregnant patients, that may mean counselling women about the risk of infection if they are considering bringing in other family members to help during pregnancy or postpartum," she said.

Melamed added that the findings could help public health officials target preventive measures, such as distributing masks or culturally relevant educational information, to the appropriate neighbourhoods.

The report was published online on June in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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