12 Oct

Geographical Review Preview: COVID-19 Mortality in New York City across Neighborhoods by Race, Ethnicity, and Nativity Status

By: Samantha Friedman and Jin-Wook Lee

What is the main purpose of your study? The purpose of our study is to use descriptive and mapping analyses to examine the COVID-19 mortality rates at the zip-code tabulation area level (ZCTA) as they vary by the racial, ethnic, and nativity-status composition of the neighborhoods.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? Our study helps scholars, policymakers, and the public pinpoint areas with high levels of COVID-19 mortality rates and with disproportionate shares of members of particular racial, ethnic, and nativity-status groups. This is important for identifying where and for whom resources are most critically needed, particularly because at this time COVID-19 mortality rates are unavailable at the neighborhood level by race, ethnicity, and nativity status.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject? Our study builds on a limited set of literature that explores COVID-19 mortality across ZCTAs in New York City. Previous research has not explicitly focused on neighborhoods by the native- and foreign-born compositions of racial and ethnic groups in examining COVID-19 mortality rates in New York City. In addition, this study is the first, to our knowledge, to use a bivariate mapping technique to analyze COVID-19 mortality rates by the percentage of racial, ethnic, and nativity-status groups across ZCTAs.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? The three most interesting findings from our study are: 1) Out of all the ZCTAs that fall in the highest category of racial, ethnic, and nativity-status groups, 36% of native-born White neighborhoods fall into the mid-and-highest levels of COVID-19 mortality rates compared to 92% of native-born Black neighborhoods, 83% of foreign-born Hispanic neighborhoods, and 59% of foreign-born Asian neighborhoods; 2) The ZCTAs with the greatest levels of COVID-19 mortality rates and racial, ethnic, and nativity-status groups do not necessarily overlap depending up the groups of interest. For example, there are neighborhoods with large shares of native-born Blacks and mid-to-high COVID-19 mortality rates that are in the eastern part of Brooklyn, but none of the neighborhoods in the highest range of foreign-born Hispanics and in the mid-to-high COVID-19 mortality range are in those same areas in Brooklyn. Similarly among areas with mid-to-high COVID-19 mortality rates, there are neighborhoods with large shares of foreign-born Asians that do not overlap at all with neighborhoods with large shares of native-born Blacks or foreign-born Hispanics; and 3) Our bivariate analyses show the importance of considering the nativity-status component of each racial and ethnic group. Associations between COVID-19 mortality rates and percentages of: 1) foreign-born Whites; and 2) foreign-born Asians are not statistically significant. Interestingly, the ordering of the lowest average COVID-19 mortality rates depends on race, ethnicity, and nativity status, with native-born Whites having the lowest average rate, followed by native-born Asians, and then foreign-born Whites and Asians, respectively.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? The theoretical implications of this study are to reconsider the role of residential segregation in affecting the spatial distribution of mortality rates across neighborhoods during a pandemic. The fundamental causes perspective suggests that segregation has adverse effects on population health, particularly in predominantly Black neighborhoods. However, the ethnic density hypothesis suggests that segregation could positively impact population health in predominantly ethnic neighborhoods via social networks and support. Our study reveals that in the case of a pandemic in which the spread of a highly contagious virus is paramount, segregation will exacerbate the exposure and mortality in neighborhoods that are largely homogeneous with respect to race, ethnicity, and nativity status. Neighborhoods that have already suffered from the adverse effects of segregation will have higher levels of the presence of chronic diseases that will make populations in these areas more vulnerable to COVID-19. Those that have not necessary suffered from segregation, however, will also be harmed. Travel to and from work outside these neighborhoods will increase population exposure to COVID-19, and segregation will exacerbate the exposure among same racial, ethnic, and nativity-status peers. At the same time, populations in largely White areas may suffer less because of their ability to move outside of New York City or other cities.

How does your research help us think about Geography? Our research is centered on the geography of New York City. It shows how racial and ethnic residential segregation, an inherently geographic phenomena, has created spatial inequalities across neighborhoods that have made some groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 mortality than others. The results in our study pinpoint, geographically, the neighborhoods that have experienced the greatest levels of COVID-19 mortality rates by the racial, ethnic, and nativity-status composition of those areas. It also discusses how the geographic mobility of the population either in terms of outmigration or daily mobility between homes and jobs can lower or raise exposure to COVID-19.

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