Coronavirus May Worsen Another World Problem

How the disease is spreading calls attention to income inequality
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 19, 2020 11:50 AM CDT
Coronavirus May Worsen Another World Problem
In this Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2020 file photo, Yemeni women work to manufacture protective face masks, at a textile factory in Sanaa, Yemen.   (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)

Here's a coronavirus concern you may not have considered: The pandemic is hitting low-income people the hardest and exacerbating inequality around the world, the New York Times reports. Reasons are complex, but studies show that people below the poverty line are about 10% more likely to have chronic health conditions that make the coronavirus much deadlier (perhaps by a factor of 10). What's more, workers are being laid off and might not have access to proper health care. "Who cares about the workers' health, while the rich run away," says a factory worker in Italy. "But then poor people, who need to bring bread home, go out and take risks." Experts say this could drive deaths of despair, racial conflict, and right-wing populism. For more numbers-driven reports on the coronavirus:

  • Italy: With 2,000 deaths so far, Italy makes a strong case for social distancing. But why was it hit so hard? Wired reports on a new paper in Demographic Science that offers two possible reasons: Italy has the world's second-oldest population, and young people often mix more with the elderly, like parents or grandparents. Many young Italians live with older family in rural areas, commute to the cities, and return home, which might exacerbate the pandemic.

  • Lack of data: Are we flying blind with little data? At Stat News, John Ioannidis argues that "draconian countermeasures" are being adopted in several countries even though coronavirus data is "evolving" and "utterly unreliable." He writes, "Given the limited testing to date, some deaths and probably the vast majority of infections due to SARS-CoV-2 are being missed. We don't know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300."
  • Testing: Reuters asks why over 1,000 people are dead in Italy and only 67 in South Korea, even though both were hit in late January. The jury is still out, but some epidemiologists point to the power of testing. South Korea has tested over 222,000 people, and Italy around 73,000.
  • A flatter curve: Sanne Blauw breaks down basic concepts behind coronavirus numbers at the Correspondent—including the importance of "flattening the curve." The idea is that extra measures will tamp down coronavirus infections at any one time, enabling the healthcare system to cope. Here's a good video about how viruses grow exponentially.
  • Hospital beds: A new Harvard study finds that the US has too few hospital beds for even a moderate outbreak, USA Today reports. Ashish Jha, who heads the Harvard instititue behind the numbers, tells the Times that "if we don’t make substantial changes, both in spreading the disease over time and expanding capacity, we're going to run out of hospital beds."
  • T-t-t-trillion: The biggest coronavirus number of all might be 1—as in the $1 trillion Washington plans to spend in boosting the economy. Is that tenable? Analyses at the Conversation and American Progress say yes, while Adam Brandon argues against: "We will get through the coronavirus," he writes at Fox News. "But the debt and deficit will remain an existential threat to our nation."
(Read about the latest, biggest coronavirus number: zero. Or see why younger people are also being afflicted.)

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