Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Apr 12;18(8):4021. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18084021.
We characterized vulnerable populations located in areas at higher risk of COVID-19-related mortality and low critical healthcare capacity during the early stage of the epidemic in the United States. We analyze data obtained from a Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 database to assess the county-level spatial variation of COVID-19-related mortality risk during the early stage of the epidemic in relation to health determinants and health infrastructure. Overall, we identified highly populated and polluted areas, regional air hub areas, race minorities (non-white population), and Hispanic or Latino population with an increased risk of COVID-19-related death during the first phase of the epidemic. The 10 highest COVID-19 mortality risk areas in highly populated counties had on average a lower proportion of white population (48.0%) and higher proportions of black population (18.7%) and other races (33.3%) compared to the national averages of 83.0%, 9.1%, and 7.9%, respectively. The Hispanic and Latino population proportion was higher in these 10 counties (29.3%, compared to the national average of 9.3%). Counties with major air hubs had a 31% increase in mortality risk compared to counties with no airport connectivity. Sixty-eight percent of the counties with high COVID-19-related mortality risk also had lower critical care capacity than the national average. The disparity in health and environmental risk factors might have exacerbated the COVID-19-related mortality risk in vulnerable groups during the early stage of the epidemic.