Who is most at risk? Mapping COVID-19 risk factors in Allegheny County

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An Interstate 279 sign alerts motorists to "Stay home and limit travel." (Photo by Kimberly Rowen/PublicSource)

Anyone can contract the novel coronavirus — but some people are at greater risk for severe illness than others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], those at greatest risk include the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.

Across Allegheny County, several communities have a high prevalence of health factors associated with a greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19 — including advanced age, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma. 

Allegheny County residents at risk for severe COVID-19 also tend to be clustered in communities with lower resources, based on factors like percentage of population below the federal poverty line or households with no available vehicle. 

The communities that stand out based on both health factors and level of need include many places in the Mon Valley, northeastern Allegheny County like Tarentum and West Deer Township, eastern suburbs like Penn Hills and several Pittsburgh neighborhoods, especially those with a large share of Black residents.

The following maps display areas where COVID-19 risk factors may be most concentrated across Allegheny County. They are not exhaustive because there was no local data available for some known COVID-19 risk factors, like adult asthma. 

The Allegheny County Health Department on Friday released a map showing where local coronavirus patients live, based on municipality. The majority of the county’s cases are in Pittsburgh, which does not include a neighborhood breakdown. 

All data was provided by the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center [WPRDC] at the University of Pittsburgh’s University Center for Social and Urban Research [UCSUR], the Allegheny County Health Department [ACHD] and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. 

Age

Individuals age 65 and older are at a greater risk of death due to COVID-19. According to the CDC, 80% of U.S. coronavirus deaths have been adults 65 years old and older. This map, produced by the UCSUR, shows the percent of the population age 65 and older in Allegheny County based on the 2010 U.S. Census.

(Map by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research)

(Map by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research)

Smoking

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, smokers may be at higher risk for COVID-19 because the disease impairs the lungs. This map, created by WPRDC using data from the ACHD, shows estimated smoking rates within Allegheny County for the years 2006 to 2010. The census tract rates were estimated using statistical modeling.

Diabetes

According to a March 17 study by Italy’s National Institute of Health, 35.5% of the patients who died of COVID-19 in Italy had diabetes. This map shows the percent of individuals across Allegheny County who had diabetes in 2016, though the data only includes individuals who had insurance through Gateway Health Plan, Highmark Health and UPMC. The map was created by the WPRDC using data from the ACHD.

The data doesn’t capture all insurers, and rates of insured vary across communities. People may also seek treatment and medication at different rates based on location, income and other factors.

Hypertension

According to the Italian study, 76.1% of the patients in Italy who died of COVID-19 had hypertension, or high blood pressure. This map shows the percent of individuals across Allegheny County who had hypertension in 2016, though it only includes customers of Gateway Health Plan, Highmark Health and UPMC. The map was created by WPRDC using data from the ACHD. Like the diabetes map, the data has caveats based on insurers and consumer behaviors.

Childhood asthma

According to the CDC, people with moderate to severe asthma are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19. This map shows asthma rates for Allegheny County children up to age 18 in 2017. The map was created by WPRDC using data from the ACHD’s Asthma Task Force. Data on adult asthma rates is not available.

Areas of highest need

These maps show where residents with the highest needs lived in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County in 2012 and 2014, respectively. The data is based on factors like percentage of population below the federal poverty line, percentage of families headed by single women and percentage of households with no available vehicle.

In many cases, the areas of highest needs coincide closely to the areas with the highest health risks, shown above. For example, the Hill District, Homewood, Mon Valley, Penn Hills, North Versailles and Tarentum all had high rates of diabetes, hypertension and childhood asthma and are also areas of high need.

The data and maps are from The Allegheny County Department of Human Services Community Need Index. (Click the map images to see a larger version.)

(Map by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research)

(Map by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services)

(Map by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research)

(Map by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services)

Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at juliette@publicsource.org.

Special thanks to WPRDC for its help with data analysis and mapping. 

PublicSource has a special page dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for the Pittsburgh region. See it here and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed. We hope you are following the news and, if your situation allows, social distancing guidelines.  Have a tip or an idea? Please email mila@publicsource.org.

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