Temporal trends in the association of social vulnerability and race/ethnicity with county-level COVID-19 incidence and outcomes in the USA: an ecological analysis.BMJ Open. 2021 07 22; 11(7):e048086.BO
The COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected the socially vulnerable and minority communities in the USA initially, but the temporal trends during the year-long pandemic remain unknown.
We examined the temporal association of county-level Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), a percentile-based measure of social vulnerability to disasters, its subcomponents and race/ethnic composition with COVID-19 incidence and mortality in the USA in the year starting in March 2020.
Counties (n=3091) with ≥50 COVID-19 cases by 6 March 2021 were included in the study. Associations between SVI (and its subcomponents) and county-level racial composition with incidence and death per capita were assessed by fitting a negative-binomial mixed-effects model. This model was also used to examine potential time-varying associations between weekly number of cases/deaths and SVI or racial composition. Data were adjusted for percentage of population aged ≥65 years, state-level testing rate, comorbidities using the average Hierarchical Condition Category score, and environmental factors including average fine particulate matter of diameter ≥2.5 μm, temperature and precipitation.
Higher SVI, indicative of greater social vulnerability, was independently associated with higher COVID-19 incidence (adjusted incidence rate ratio per 10 percentile increase: 1.02, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.03, p<0.001) and death per capita (1.04, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.05, p<0.001). SVI became an independent predictor of incidence starting from March 2020, but this association became weak or insignificant by the winter, a period that coincided with a sharp increase in infection rates and mortality, and when counties with higher proportion of white residents were disproportionately represented ('third wave'). By spring of 2021, SVI was again a predictor of COVID-19 outcomes. Counties with greater proportion of black residents also observed similar temporal trends in COVID-19-related adverse outcomes. Counties with greater proportion of Hispanic residents had worse outcomes throughout the duration of the analysis.
Except for the winter 'third wave', when majority of the white communities had the highest incidence of cases, counties with greater social vulnerability and proportionately higher minority populations experienced worse COVID-19 outcomes.