Coronavirus doesn't favour crowded cities, study shows

  • Many people believe that densely populated areas have a higher rate of coronavirus infections
  • Investigators, however, found that more densely populated American counties have lower death rates
  • They found that large metro areas with a higher number of counties tightly linked together are most vulnerable

Densely populated areas of the United States don't have higher rates of Covid-19 infection and death than less-congested areas, according to a new study.

The findings counter the conventional wisdom that the new coronavirus spreads more easily in cities and other densely populated areas.

"The fact that density is unrelated to confirmed virus infection rates and inversely related to confirmed Covid-19 death rates is important, unexpected, and profound," said lead author Shima Hamidi. She's an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

For the study, Hamidi and her team analysed Covid-19 infection and death rates in 913 metropolitan counties nationwide.

While density was not significantly linked to infection rate, the investigators found that denser counties tended to have lower death rates than sprawling areas. This might be because they have higher levels of development, including better healthcare systems, the researchers suggested.

Food for strategic thought

Another finding: Higher infection and Covid-19 death rates in counties owe more to the size of larger metro areas in which counties are located.

Large metro areas with a higher number of counties tightly linked together through economic, social and commuting relationships are most vulnerable, according to the study published online on 18 June in the Journal of the American Planning Association.

Some experts have suggested that urban density is linked to the spread of the coronavirus. Surveys show that many Americans expect people to leave cities, possibly due to the belief the risk of infection is greater there.

The new findings counter "a narrative that, absent data and analysis, would challenge the foundation of modern cities and could lead to a population shift from urban centers to suburban and exurban areas," Hamidi said in a Johns Hopkins news release.

The study results also offer urban planners food for strategic thought.

"These findings suggest that urban planners should continue to practise and advocate for compact places rather than sprawling ones, due to the myriad well-established benefits of the former, including health benefits," Hamidi said.

Image credit: Getty Images

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