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Study identifies clear link between long-term exposure to pollution and Covid-19 death rates

Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States (Updated April 5, 2020) “Background: United States government scientists estimate that COVID-19 may kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans. The majority of the pre-existing conditions that increase the risk of death for COVID-19 are the same diseases that are affected by long-term exposure to air pollution. We investigate whether long-term average exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) increases the risk of COVID-19 deaths in the United States.

  • Methods: Data was collected for approximately 3,000 counties in the United States (98% of the population) up to April 04, 2020. We fit zero-inflated negative binomial mixed models using county level COVID-19 deaths as the outcome and county level long-term average of PM2.5 as the exposure. We adjust by population size, hospital beds, number of individuals tested, weather, and socioeconomic and behavioral variables including, but not limited to obesity and smoking. We include a random intercept by state to account for potential correlation in counties within the same state.
  • Results: We found that an increase of only 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate, 95% confidence interval (CI) (5%, 25%). Results are statistically significant and robust to secondary and sensitivity analyses.
  • Conclusions: A small increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 leads to a large increase in COVID-19 death rate, with the magnitude of increase 20 times that observed for PM2.5 and all-cause mortality. The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis. The data and code are publicly available.

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