SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all of us but it’s not affecting all of us equally. A new study at the University of Utah looks into why residents of some Salt Lake County areas are getting hit by the virus 10 times harder than others.
Dr. Daniel Mendoza led the study. As an Assistant Professor in Atmospheric Sciences and City & Metropolitan Planning, he closely looked at air pollution, traffic data and COVID-19 case rates in different zip codes. One of his graphs shows that people with lower incomes and minorities have much a much higher number of cases than higher income earners and white people.
“When we normalized per 100,000 population, communities such as Glendale and Rose Park have almost 10 times a higher rate than communities for example such as Draper and Sandy,” Dr. Mendoza told ABC4 News Friday. “What surprised us was that the rates were so much higher, a factor of 10 in terms of the transmission.”
During the governor’s stay-at-home directive from March 21st to May 1st, traffic dropped by 50 percent in the affluent Yalecrest neighborhood of Salt Lake City and only 15 percent in Glendale.
“Those people still had to go to work,” Dr. Mendoza explained. “Whereas populations in higher income locations could choose to not go to work at all or they just could telework. They had the facility to do that.”
They type of work that many minorities perform also affected transmission.
“In a regular office, most people interact with 10 to 15 people in a full day in close proximity,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Whereas if you work for example at a cash register or a grocery store you’re probably interacting with 10 to 15 people an hour.”
Dr. Mendoza also says minority communities have less access to testing and healthcare and that crowding plays a big role.
“In less wealthy communities, there are more people per square foot in a home,” he said. “You may have multi-generational families. You may have smaller homes so while wealthier people could for example, seclude a room and put their infected family member in that room and then just close off the rest of the house to them, this may not be a possibility so if one member of a family gets it in a lower income community, the entire family will get it.”
Dr. Mendoza says even when this pandemic is over, areas like Glendale and Rose Park could still feel the economic and educational effects for as long as 15 years, while more affluent neighborhoods will recover much quicker.
His study is currently undergoing peer review before it can be published.