Air pollution linked to higher COVID-19 deaths

1st May 2020

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Michael Bradburn

Air pollution has significantly heightened the number of deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, a study by Harvard University scientists has indicated.

After collecting data from around 3,000 US counties, the researchers found that even a single-unit increase in particulate matter air pollution is linked to a 15% rise in the coronavirus death rate. This is due to the underlying health issues brought on by air pollution, which are the same conditions known to increase the likelihood of death from coronavirus.

Rising exposure to particle pollution over 15-20 years was already known to magnify the risk of overall mortality, but the new study found that the increase is 20 times higher for COVID-19 deaths. This comes after satellite imagery found that air pollution levels have fallen in many cities across the world due to restrictions on transportation and business activities during economic lockdowns.

However, the scientists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said that the latest findings underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations during the COVID-19 crisis.

“A failure to do so can potentially increase the COVID-19 death toll and hospitalisations, further burdening our healthcare system and drawing resources away from COVID-19 patients,“ they wrote.

“The results of this paper suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe COVID-19 outcomes.“

Picture credit: Shutterstock

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