By Christopher Carbone
Published March 18, 2020
As COVID-19 spreads worldwide, experts have warned that people over the age of 60, along with those with preexisting health conditions -- such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic respiratory disease -- are the most at risk.
Air pollution, which has a bigger impact on lower income and non-white communities, is a major driver of the diseases mentioned above. According to one study, air pollution is responsible for an estimated 8 million early deaths per year.
As a result of that health damage, respiratory infections like coronavirus may have a more severe impact on city dwellers and communities exposed to toxic air than others.
“Given what we know now, it is very likely that people who are exposed to more air pollution and who are smoking tobacco products are going to fare worse if infected with [Covid-19] than those who are breathing cleaner air, and who don’t smoke,” Aaron Bernstein, at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, told The Washington Post.
Previous outbreaks provide some evidence that air pollution puts people at higher risk of dying. Researchers studying the SARS outbreak in China in 2003 discovered that infected people living in areas with more air pollution were twice as likely to die as those in less polluted locations.
Sascha Marschang, the acting secretary general of the European Public Health Alliance, told The Guardian: “Once this crisis is over, policymakers should speed up measures to get dirty vehicles off our roads. Science tells us that epidemics like Covid-19 will occur with increasing frequency. So cleaning up the streets is a basic investment for a healthier future.”