Exposure to Air Pollution and Vulnerability to COVID-19: A case study of spatial disparity and community resilience of Richmond

Authors: Rong Bao*, University of Richmond, Todd R. Lookingbill, University of Richmond
Topics: Geography and Urban Health, Hazards and Vulnerability, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: air pollution, COVID-19, social vulnerability, community resilience, health, environmental justice
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 9
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Exposure to air pollution draws public attention to subsequent health concerns, particularly in the context of COVID-19. People with respiratory illnesses and other preconditioned diseases, which may be triggered by long-term exposure to air pollution, are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19. This study examines the reciprocal relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 in Richmond, Virginia, by monitoring air quality changes in reaction to the pandemic and corresponding policies and analyzing the spatial relationships between COVID-19 confirmed cases, social vulnerability, and air pollution exposures. Absolute decreases in major air pollution compositions occurred during the spring and summer of 2020 due to Virginia's executive "Stay-At-Home" orders and succeeding business closures. Meanwhile, the spatial disparity of COVID-19 confirmed cases was correlated with field measures of Richmond's air quality, demonstrating that neighborhoods with higher exposure to long-term air pollution reported more COVID-19 confirmed cases. Other research has shown that exposure to extreme heat stress, lack of green space, and discriminatory housing policies contribute to poorer social infrastructure, resulting in higher social vulnerability rates in the city of Richmond. We identified statistically significant spatial relationships between air pollution exposures and these confounding factors. Therefore, exposure to air pollution provides additive stress to the insufficient social infrastructure, exacerbating neighborhoods' susceptibility to COVID-19.

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