Can power outages during extreme weather events be responsible for COVID-19 outbreaks?

Authors: Aaron Adams, University of Connecticut, Debs Ghosh*, University of Connecticut, Adam Gallaher, University of Connecticut, Ashley Benitez Ou, University of Connecticut, Diego Cerrai, University of Connecticut
Topics: Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Medical and Health Geography, Environmental Science
Keywords: COVID-19, storms, power outages, environmental management, spatial analysis
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 8
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper aims at understanding whether outbreaks of Covid-19 cases may occur after major storms due to the displacement and movement of a large number of people affected by fallen trees, power lines, and resultant power outages. We compiled hourly power outage data due to the impact of a significant Tropical Storm, Isaias, in Connecticut (CT) and daily COVID-19 cases recorded for a period between 21-days before and after the storm by towns. First, we identified towns with statistically significant increasing trends of daily COVID-19 cases before and after the storm using time series functions; second, identified COVID-19 space-time clusters that were active (i.e., more observed than expected cases) before and after the storm using a retrospective space-time scan statistic; third, measured statistical associations between power outages (percentage of people without power and estimated time to restore power) and increase in COVID-19 cases. Results showed positive associations between power outages and COVID-19 cases increase and that it would be possible to predict the location of future outbreaks after major storms using power outage information. We can estimate times to power restoration by locations using outage predictions and then direct appropriate public health interventions such as increased testing and contact tracing when people return to their homes and businesses to prevent future disease outbreaks. This paper has the potential for advancing the understanding of coupled human-environment systems through an investigation of the relationships between extreme weather events, environmental management, and human health.

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