Enlarge /. Doctors bring a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside the emergency at Coral Gables Hospital, where coronavirus patients are treated on July 30, 2020 in Coral Gables, near Miami.
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With the coronavirus pandemic spreading unchecked across much of the United States, a new study finds that nearly half of the low-income areas are unprepared for the treatment of severe cases of COVID-19, indicating higher mortality rates.
Forty-nine percent of the country's lowest-income communities – with an average income of $ 35,000 or less – have no ICU beds in their local hospitals. If you only look at rural areas, the picture is even worse: 55 percent had no intensive care beds. This is in stark contrast to the highest-income communities, which are defined by an average income of $ 90,000 and above. Of these, only 3 percent have no access to beds in the intensive care unit. The study, published by University of Pennsylvania researchers, appeared in Health Affairs magazine this week.
The results reinforce concerns about how the pandemic is widening the gaping socio-economic disparities in the United States. Low-income communities are already more susceptible to COVID-19 due to the unavoidable occupational exposure, dependence on local transportation, higher population density, and lower quarantine capability with potential exposure.
At the same time, these communities are at higher risk of serious illnesses, which often require treatment in the intensive care unit. Low-income communities generally have a higher rate of chronic illness, which increases the likelihood of serious illnesses. You also have less access to tests.
The combination of these factors and the reduced access to the intensive care unit could easily lead to higher mortality rates in these communities, warn the researchers.
The point is particularly worrying as the spread of the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus continues unabated in much of the United States. While the pandemic began largely in urban coastal cities that have relatively good access to critical care, the pandemic is now spreading to more rural and lower-income areas in the south and west.
To avoid avoidable deaths, the study's authors suggest that state and local officials work to expand ICU capacity in local hospitals, rethink protocols for transporting critical patients to better-equipped hospitals, not just the closest ones, and the expected emergency funding to provide hospitals will be under the greatest stress.
"As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, coordinated policies are urgently needed to prevent existing socio-economic differences from exacerbating the damage already caused by COVID-19," they warn.