County-level exposures to greenness and associations with COVID-19 incidence and mortality in the United States

medRxiv. 2020 Sep 1:2020.08.26.20181644. doi: 10.1101/2020.08.26.20181644. Preprint.


BACKGROUND: COVID-19 is an infectious disease that has killed more than 175,000 people in the US. During a time of social distancing measures and increasing social isolation, green spaces may be a crucial factor to maintain a physically and socially active lifestyle while not increasing risk of infection.

OBJECTIVES: We evaluated whether greenness is related to COVID-19 incidence and mortality in the United States.

METHODS: We downloaded data on COVID-19 cases and deaths for each US county up through June 7, 2020, from Johns Hopkins University, Center for Systems Science and Engineering Coronavirus Resource Center. We used April-May 2020 Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data, to represent the greenness exposure during the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the US. We fitted negative binomial mixed models to evaluate associations of NDVI with COVID-19 incidence and mortality, adjusting for potential confounders such as county-level demographics, epidemic stage, and other environmental factors. We evaluated whether the associations were modified by population density, proportion of Black residents, median home value, and issuance of stay-at-home order.

RESULTS: An increase of 0.1 in NDVI was associated with a 6% (95% Confidence Interval: 3%, 10%) decrease in COVID-19 incidence rate after adjustment for potential confounders. Associations with COVID-19 incidence were stronger in counties with high population density and high median home values, and in counties with stay-at-home orders. Greenness was not associated with COVID-19 mortality in all counties; however, it was protective in counties with high percentages of Black residents, high median home value, and higher population density.

DISCUSSION: Exposures to NDVI had beneficial impacts on county-level incidence of COVID-19 in the US and may have reduced county-level COVID-19 mortality rates, especially in densely populated counties.

PMID:32908990 | PMC:PMC7480038 | DOI:10.1101/2020.08.26.20181644