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Study: Residents of 'redlined' neighborhoods at higher risk for death from COVID-19

Study: Residents of 'redlined' neighborhoods at higher risk for death from COVID-19
Residents of 'redlined' neighborhoods in California have been at higher risk for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to a new study. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

May 17 (UPI) -- Neighborhoods "redlined" by mortgage lenders nearly a century ago due to higher populations of racial and ethnic minorities saw more deaths from COVID-19 than White-majority areas, a study presented Tuesday found.

Infection rates were more than three times higher in California neighborhoods in which mortgage lending was limited by the federal Home Owners Loan Corporation during the Great Depression, the data presented Tuesday during the American Thoracic Society international conference showed.

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This is compared with infection rates in neighborhoods that had not been redlined historically, the researchers said during the international conference in San Francisco.

Residents of redlined neighborhoods were also up to twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared with those of non-redlined areas, according to the researchers.

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"Our study demonstrates that where you live matters," Dr. Ernesto Casillas, a study co-author, said in a press release.

"Prior research has already shown that redlining is associated with worse outcomes for asthma, birth rates, and cancer," said Casillas, a fellow in pulmonary and critical care at the University of California, San Francisco.

Redlining was federal policy during the Great Depression, under which residents of neighborhoods with large ethnic and racial minority populations were denied federally funded mortgages and other resources, according to the non-profit the United Way.

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As part of the policy, the Home Owners Loan Corporation denied financial relief to home owners in these areas who were at risk of losing their homes because of the Great Depression, it says.

The federal program drew red lines around neighborhoods and deemed them less desirable because of their racial and ethnic composition, the organization notes.

Now, nearly a century later, these communities are vulnerable to poverty, crime and increased rates of many diseases, research indicates.

RELATED 'Redlined' neighborhoods have higher rates of asthma than others

Previous studies have documented the long-term health impacts of redlining, including higher rates of asthma and stroke.

Many of these neighborhoods continue to experience reduced access to healthcare, which has led to higher infection and death rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, research suggests.

For this study, Casillas and his colleagues examined census tract data on COVID-19 cases and deaths reported to the California Department of Public Health between January 2020 and August 2021.

The researchers then used digital versions of Home Owners Loan Corporation redlining maps to assign each census tract an agency-designated risk grade of A to D, with D representing the census tracts in historically redlined neighborhoods.

They then performed statistical analyses to assess the association between a neighborhood's Home Owners Loan Corporation risk grade and its COVID-19 case and death rates.

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"The legacy of residential redlining remains present in nearly all major cities in America," Casillas said.

"Redlined neighborhoods in other states experience similar issues such as racial segregation, poor access to healthy foods, higher rates of poverty and lower-quality housing. These are just some of the factors that make redlined communities vulnerable to major health outbreaks," he said.

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