Spatial analysis of COVID-19 and traffic-related air pollution in Los Angeles

Jonah Lipsitt, Alec M. Chan-Golston, Jonathan Liu, Jason Su, Yifang Zhu, and Michael Jerrett. Environment International 153: 106531 (2021).


  • Environmental factors such as air pollution may contribute to Covid-19 incidence and death.
  • This study investigates whether air pollution relates to Covid-19 incidence and mortality in neighborhoods of Los Angeles.
  • Los Angeles is a global epicenter for the pandemic with 1,105,989 cases to date.
  • Findings suggest that chronic exposure to nitrogen dioxide exerts large effects on Covid-19 disease incidence and mortality.
  • Higher levels of air pollution in neighborhoods with high proportions of Latinx and Black people.
  • Higher pollution may explain why these groups suffered disproportionately from the pandemic.



[O]ur findings imply a potentially large association between exposure to air pollution and population-level rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Our findings demonstrate comparable results to other recent literature, especially concerning the association of long-term NO2 and COVID-19 mortality rate. Our small-area analyses, covariate aggregation methods using building footprints for accounting for population density variability, and utilization of spatial modeling (CAR model with spatial random effect) make novel contributions to the available literature. These findings are especially important for targeting interventions aimed at limiting the impact of COVID-19 in polluted communities.

In the U.S., more polluted communities often have lower incomes and higher proportions of Black and Latinx people. In addition, Black and Latinx people have higher rates of pre-existing conditions, potentially further exacerbating the risk of COVID-19 transmission and death (, ). The elevated risk of case incidence and mortality observed in these populations might result partly from higher exposure to air pollution.

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