New COVID Local Risk Index Identifies Neighborhoods at Highest Risk of Pandemic’s Impact

Jun. 16, 2020

NYU Langone Health

As cities across the country respond to the health and economic impact of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, access to accurate, local data is key to help municipal leaders rapidly design and direct responses and resources to help communities most in need to recover. A new city-oriented COVID Local Risk Index will help municipal leaders identify cities and neighborhoods with populations at higher risk of COVID-19 infection and more severe COVID-19 illness by incorporating key risk factors of race and ethnicity, age, household crowding, low income, and underlying health conditions like diabetes and obesity.

The neighborhood-level COVID Local Risk Index is now available on the City Health Dashboard, an online resource with community-level health, social, and economic data for 750 cities across the United States developed by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This unique measure calculates COVID-19 risk down to the hyperlocal, neighborhood level by relying on key health, economic, and social data at the census tract level. Other measurements and indexes rely on county or state data to estimate census tract risk or do not include social and economic factors to determine COVID-19 risk. Additionally, the index allows for comparison of COVID-19 risk across other cities and between neighborhoods.

“While COVID-19 affects every community, we know its harm is disproportionately greater in certain groups, including people of color, those with underlying health conditions, older people, and frontline workers with low incomes,” says Marc N. Gourevitch, MD, MPH, the Muriel G. and George W. Singer Professor of Population Health and chair of the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, as well as the principal architect of the City Health Dashboard. “We also know that there can be huge variations in risk level between neighborhoods in the same city, sometimes separated by less than a mile or two. Even cities with lower cases of COVID-19 can have individual neighborhoods with populations at higher risk. Having access to this hyperlocal data is critical for leaders needing to make urgent decisions about re-opening and deploying resources amidst the pandemic.”

The COVID Local Risk Index incorporates data from multiple sources that are grouped into three overarching themes to determine communities with highest risk of being severely affected by COVID-19:

social vulnerability drawn from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index, which incorporates variables like income and overcrowded housing COVID-19–relevant chronic health conditions, including obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes COVID-19–relevant demographics, including age and minority status

The City Health Dashboard is an online, one-stop resource that allows users to view and compare data on the 750 U.S. cities with populations of 50,000 or more, extracted and analyzed from multiple national data sources. Its goal is to guide solutions that create healthier and more equitable communities. Since most health data are reported at the county and state level, the dashboard is one of the few resources that provides data at the city and neighborhood level about health and the factors that shape health such as access to healthy foods and poverty. The COVID Local Risk Index has available data for the 500 largest dashboard cities—those with populations of 66,000 and above.

Since launching two years ago, city leaders and policymakers have used the dashboard’s other measures of health and its drivers to identify health disparities, create data-driven health solutions, and benchmark health outcomes against those in similar communities.

“The City Health Dashboard’s new data on COVID-19 local risks provides a map for mayors and city managers on where to focus resources to improve health outcomes,” says David Eichenthal, executive director of the National Resource Network and former city official in New York City and Chattanooga, Tennessee. “At the local level, we’ve known for years that these health disparities exist from city to city and neighborhood to neighborhood. But the dashboard, for the first time, provides city leaders with vital information to take on these challenges to help combat the worst effects of the pandemic and create more equitable communities.”

While the COVID Local Risk Index itself is a valuable measure of COVID-19 vulnerability across the country, having access as well to the other data and visualizations on the dashboard makes the index even more useful for city leaders and residents, says Dr. Gourevitch. Specifically, the dashboard already displays more than 35 measures of health and its drivers for cities and neighborhoods across the United States. The index can be compared across cities and overlaid with other metrics for a more complete picture of health within neighborhoods across a city. Cities can also easily access resources and evidence-backed policies in the dashboard’s Take Action section, to which the team is adding critical COVID-19–related tools as they become available.

About the City Health Dashboard

More than 80 percent of U.S. residents live in urban areas. However, until recently, few measures have been available for cities to assess health, the factors that shape it, and the drivers of health equity in their communities. The City Health Dashboard provides city leaders with an array of regularly refreshed data to support health policies and equity-related decision-making.

With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the City Health Dashboard was developed by NYU Grossman School of Medicine, in partnership with NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, the National Resource Network, ICMA, and the National League of Cities. The website launched in 2018 to offer data on more than 35 measures for the 500 largest U.S. cities—those with populations of about 66,000 or more—representing approximately one third of the U.S. population. In May 2020, the dashboard expanded to smaller cities—now covering more than 750 cities with populations of 50,000 and larger. Equipped with these data, local leaders have a clearer picture of the challenges facing their communities and how to address them.

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Sasha Walek Phone: 646-501-3873 [email protected]

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