Covid-19 Vulnerability Mapping for the US’s 500 Largest Cities

Along with organizations across the world, we have been trying to respond appropriately and constructively to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Though we are not public health experts, we have shifted our technical and analytic capacity to develop a tool to help cities respond to the growing spread of Covid-19 in cities across the country. Using data from the Center for Disease Control, the US Census Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security we have mapped a combination of infrastructure, health and demographic factors that have been identified by the CDC as influencing vulnerability to Covid-19. The tool below provides information on the nations’ 500 largest cities, zoomed in to the census-tract level in each. We know that no city or community, no matter its wealth, healthcare infrastructure or demographic profile is immune to Covid-19. We hope this tool will help clearly spotlight cities and communities where vulnerabilities are greatest, to help quickly inform local leaders in government and beyond to take decisive action around this crisis.

How it is constructed

The tool includes a list of the 500 largest US cities, ranked according to their overall Covid-19 vulnerability (Rank 1 = most vulnerable, Rank 497 = least vulnerable). Ranks are calculated as the aggregate of the vulnerability scores for all census tracts within a given city. This ranking also includes aggregate scores for each city on the three aspects of vulnerability we have identified — underlying health issues, population demographics, and health infrastructure — to allow more analysis of the factors that contribute to the overall vulnerability of each city. The full datasheet containing all the indicators used for this tool is available for download.

Click image to open Covid-19 Vulnerability Index

The tool also includes a list of the 500 largest US cities, ranked according to their overall Covid-19 vulnerability (Rank 1 = most vulnerable, Rank 497 = least vulnerable).  Ranks are calculated as the aggregate of the vulnerability scores for all census tracts within a given city. This ranking also includes aggregate scores for each city on the three aspects of vulnerability we have identified — underlying health issues, population demographics, and health infrastructure — to allow more analysis of the factors that contribute to the overall vulnerability of each city. The index uses data on preexisting health factors and healthcare capacity to better understand both the demographic profiles that increase the risk of an outbreak and the ability of communities to respond effectively. It examines three main aspects of vulnerability to Covid-19: population demographics and underlying health issues, which reveal which communities have greatest concentrations of vulnerable populations and risk of rapid transmission, and health infrastructure, which reflects a community’s ability to respond to an acute health crisis like the current pandemic. Each of these three aspects aggregates the values of a number of indicators of factors that increase vulnerability, which are weighted in accordance with existing analysis from the CDC. The aggregate values of each of the three aspects of this vulnerability index, as well as the overall vulnerability assessment, are on a 0-100 scale, with 100 indicating high vulnerability and 0 indicating low vulnerability. More information on how this tool was constructed can be found in the methodological note at the bottom of this post.

The data show that a large proportion of the most vulnerable cities are in Florida or the industrial Midwestern Rust Belt. 17 of the 50 most vulnerable cities are in Florida, while 16 are in the Rust Belt. Put another way, two-thirds of the country’s most vulnerable cities are in those two regions.

Gary, IN is the nation’s most vulnerable city, while Detroit, a large city and major regional hub of some 672,000 people, is the country’s sixth-most vulnerable city.

Provo, UT and College Station, TX are tied as the least-vulnerable cities in the US (both ranking 497). Many of the less vulnerable cities are home to colleges and universities (including both Provo and College Station), which tend to have younger populations and, in some cases, major university medical centers. Most of the least vulnerable cities are in the 75,000-200,000 population range, though there are also some major cities like Denver, Seattle, Austin and Minneapolis with lower levels of vulnerability.

By measuring cities at the census-tract level, we are able to identify significant disparities where they exist within cities. For example, some major metropolitan centers like Atlanta, GA, Miami, FL and Chicago, IL are among the most unequal in the country in terms of Covid-19 vulnerability. Atlanta, in particular, has the fifth-largest disparity in its communities’ Covid-19 vulnerability in the country. More investigation is needed to better understand these disparities, and not only in the most unequal cities, in order to better identify and serve the most vulnerable populations in every city.

We will continue to improve this tool as the crisis develops and to align with user and expert feedback. If you have feedback around this tool, in particular concrete suggestions for how we might improve it, we welcome your thoughts at covid19 [at] socialprogress.org.

Dustin Davis, US Senior Data Analyst, Social Progress Imperative

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