New research from the Texas A&M University School of Public Health suggests that those living with persistent poverty and poor housing conditions are more likely to develop new mobility issues after infection with COVID-19.
This study, published in Preventive Medicine, is the first to examine the relationship between social vulnerability and persistent symptoms of COVID-19. In it, researchers analyzed data about socially vulnerable Michigan residents who experienced new difficulty walking or climbing stairs after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The study is available online for free until December 28.
“Learning more about the persistent symptoms of COVID-19 is important for the individuals involved but also for the overall health care system because those affected may also find that their other health conditions worsen,” said Dr. Kristi L. Allgood, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Texas A&M School of Public Health who led the study and who was working in Michigan when the research was conducted. “The increase in mobility issues following a COVID-19 infection is also likely to increase the demand for health services and other resources.”
Additionally, Allgood said the combined stresses from COVID-19 and from living in socially vulnerable situations can be cumulative, further exacerbating health outcomes for those affected.
Study Methods, Findings
For the study, conducted in 2022, the team used the county-level Minority Health Social Vulnerability Index developed by the US Department of Health and Human Services to ultimately identify 5,528 adults with polymerase chain reaction (PCR)- confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection. who lived in Michigan, including Detroit, at the time of diagnosis. The group then asked respondents if they had severe difficulty walking or climbing stairs.
After accounting for the complex structure of the survey, a statistical analysis found that respondents living in the most socially disadvantaged counties in Michigan were 38 percent more likely to report of a new mobility impairment after a diagnosis of COVID-19 compared to adults living in less-than-moderately socially vulnerable counties.
Specifically, 9.6 percent of respondents living in a socially disadvantaged county reported a mobility disability, compared to 6.1 percent of those in other locations. Additionally, those older than 65, Hispanic, Black or other race or ethnicity report more new mobility impairments than non-Hispanic White adults.
In addition, living in counties with more households in poverty or that include households with children, older adults or disabled residents is associated with a higher likelihood of mobility disability. Conversely, this study also found that living in communities with a high proportion of racial and ethnic minority residents and/or non-native English speakers was associated with a lower likelihood of mobility disability.
“This is consistent with previous findings that people who are poor, have disabilities and live in resource-poor communities are more vulnerable to the effects of any disaster,” Allgood said. “Furthermore, this is also consistent with findings that living among others of the same ethnicity can protect against certain health outcomes. Overall, our findings strengthen the case that sharing resources equitably during disasters such as pandemics can result in less damage to the most vulnerable populations.