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More than a quarter of those living in COVID hot zones live in poverty

By: - November 17, 2020 3:26 pm
coronavirus COVID-19

A 3D model of COVID-19, the virus causing the coronavirus. Photo by NIAID-RML | Flickr/CC BY 2.0

COVID cases in Arizona are rising sharply in November, and the ZIP codes that have been getting hit the hardest have more than a quarter of their population living below the poverty line. 

Statewide, Arizona reported a total of 2,984 new cases of COVID-19 Monday with more than half of them coming out of Maricopa County.

The Arizona Department of Health Services continually updates a database of ZIP codes with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in each area. An analysis of this data by the Arizona Mirror found that 12 of the 16 ZIP codes with more than 3,000 cases had more than 20% of their population living below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data. 

The average percentage of people living under the poverty line in the 16 ZIP codes was around 26%. 

The ZIP code with the highest number of people infected so far has the highest percentage of its residents living under the poverty line. In the 85009 ZIP code, almost two in every five people — 38.6% of residents — are impoverished, and 6,592 people have contracted the virus. 

And in the 85719 ZIP code, which encompasses the University of Arizona in Tucson, 36% are under the poverty line and there have been 3,318 cases of COVID-19. 

However, poverty level is not always an indicator of COVID-19 levels. 

The 85353 ZIP code in the Southwest Valley has only 13.7% of its population living under the poverty line, but 3,093 confirmed cases. 

However, those who are in poverty are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, according to London-based researchers

“[P]eople of low SES (socio-economic standings) present to healthcare services at a more advanced stage of illness, resulting in poorer health outcomes,” researchers said in their report. “This will likely lead to poorer health outcomes from COVID-19 for economically disadvantaged people.”

Researchers also noted that many people who live in poverty tend to have restricted access to health care. Almost 40% of Arizonans currently live in a healthcare provider shortage area, including the impacted ZIP codes. 

“Finally, there is emerging evidence that hypertension and diabetes are risk factors for death from COVID-19,” researchers said. “This is notable, because poverty is itself a risk factor for these conditions, with the Marmot Review showing that it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and hypertension, suggesting people of low SES have an increased susceptibility to COVID-19 mortality.”

Most of the ZIP codes impacted are majority Hispanic; only three were majority white. 

The average age of those living in the areas most impacted is 26. In Arizona’s recent surge, nearly half of the cases have been among people between the ages of 20 and 44. 

“Among 20 to 44 year olds, college aged individuals continue to see the highest number of cases,” ADHS Director Cara Christ said in a YouTube video last week. 

Arizona is not alone in its surge in cases. The country saw a record number of cases this week with Thursday being the highest one-day infection total on record, according to John Hopkins University data. 

There have been over 279,000 cases of COVID-19 in Arizona and over 6,300 deaths as of Nov. 16.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.