American Inequality Meets COVID-19: Uneven Spread of the Disease across Communities

Wei Zhai, Mengyang Liu, Xinyu Fu, Zhong-Ren Peng

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The United States is bearing the brunt of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The spatially uneven viral spread and community inequality will jointly bring about worse consequences. The combined effects on U.S. communities remain unclear, however. Given spatially heterogeneous compliance with the stay-at-home orders and the varying timing of local directives, the uneven spread should be further examined. In this research, we first exploited county-level data to study the spatiotemporal pattern of viral transmission by a Bayesian approach. We then examined the uneven effects of socioeconomic and demographic variables on viral transmission across U.S. counties using geographically weighted panel regressions. Our results show that, first, the early epicenters shifted from the West Coast to the East Coast with a transmission rate of over 2.5 and continued to expand into Midwestern states in May, although the spread in the majority of counties had been greatly mitigated since the middle of April. Second, increased stay-at-home behaviors reduced the transmission of COVID-19 across the United States. The effects of socioeconomic and demographic variables varied from place to place, except that high household income was more consistently associated with a reduction in viral transmission. Finally, when the order was lifted, high household income was found to increase the viral transmission in the Midwestern United States and the high unemployment rate contributed to the viral spread in the Western United States. The knowledge obtained from this study can offer new insights for the containment actions of COVID-19.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

User-Defined Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • social vulnerability
  • stay-at-home behavior
  • stay-at-home order


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