SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Communities of color make up about a quarter of Utah’s population, but represent a third of COVID-19 cases in the state. A similar trend is being seen across the country as well. So why are racial minorities unequally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? New research from a study conducted by two scholars at the University of Utah indicates that variation in income and occupational status, on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood scale, may be the reason.

The data found that during the lockdowns in 2020, people living in affluent zip codes of Salt Lake County were more able to stay home than those living in low-income areas. This suggested that the “essential worker” occupations of the least-affluent areas, which are also the highest minority populations, put them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19. As a result, low-income neighborhoods saw nearly ten times the amount of COVID-19 cases than the affluent areas.

One of the authors of the study wrote that behavior under the Stay Safe, Stay Home directive shifted the disease risk away from the wealthiest, most white, and white-collar workers, who were already more likely to rebound from a crisis. While Utahns did benefit overall from the quarantine practice, researchers proposed that designing this policy next time with low-income essential workers in mind may help prevent the spread of disease, improve outcomes for vulnerable populations, and create a more resilient society overall. Furthermore, what can be done to protect our communities who are at-risk is providing labor protections (such as PPE availability) for essential workers during the pandemic and expanding healthcare during periods of crisis.

Two researchers of the study, Dr. Daniel Mendoza (Assistant Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences) and Dr. Tabitha Benney (Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science) joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion. They discussed the meaning of structural inequality, specific findings of their research, what they think needs to be further researched, and what can be done to protect the most vulnerable populations.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Dr. Mendoza and Mr. Benney click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.