Socio-Spatial Inequality and the Effects

of Density on COVID-19 Transmission in US Cities

+ Constantine Kontokosta, Bartosz Bończak


Cities are often associated with the rapid spread of infectious diseases, driven by the perceived risks of urban density and overcrowding. However, transmission risk can vary considerably within urbanized areas as a function of socio-spatial disparities and the adoption of mitigating behaviors across communities. Here we examine the effect of density on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection rates at the neighborhood scale, within and across US cities. We integrate high-spatial resolution measures of land use and residential population density, mobility, infection rates and social determinants of health to evaluate the impact of neighborhood context on infection risk, while controlling for the potential mitigating effects of social distancing behavior. We are particularly focused on disparities among marginalized and vulnerable neighborhoods, and the generalizability of the results across political, socioeconomic, regional and built environment contexts. Our findings demonstrate a nonlinear relationship between urban density and infection rates, with higher-density neighborhoods more likely to adopt mitigating behaviors to reduce transmission. However, low-income and minority communities, facing cascading health challenges, are found to be least able to modify mobility behavior and therefore experienced a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 infection risk during the first wave of the pandemic.

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Constantine E. Kontokosta, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Urban Science and Planning and Director of the Civic Analytics program at the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management. He also directs the Urban Intelligence Lab and holds cross-appointments at the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) and the Department of Civil and Urban Engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and is affiliated faculty at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service.

Bartosz is a Research Scientist and Lab Manager of Dr. Constantine Kontokosta's Civic Analytics Program at the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management.

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