Spatial Disparities in Coronavirus Incidence and Mortality in the United States: An Ecological Analysis as of May 2020

Charlie H. Zhang, Gary G. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

183 Scopus citations


Purpose: This ecological analysis investigates the spatial patterns of the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States in relation to socioeconomic variables that characterize US counties. Methods: Data on confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 for 2,814 US counties were obtained from Johns Hopkins University. We used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map the spatial aspects of this pandemic and investigate the disparities between metropolitan and nonmetropolitan communities. Multiple regression models were used to explore the contextual risk factors of infections and death across US counties. We included population density, percent of population aged 65+, percent population in poverty, percent minority population, and percent of the uninsured as independent variables. A state-level measure of the percent of the population that has been tested for COVID-19 was used to control for the impact of testing. Findings: The impact of COVID-19 in the United States has been extremely uneven. Although densely populated large cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas are hotspots of the pandemic, it is counterintuitive that incidence and mortality rates in some small cities and nonmetropolitan counties approximate those in epicenters such as New York City. Regression analyses support the hypotheses of positive correlations between COVID-19 incidence and mortality rates and socioeconomic factors including population density, proportions of elderly residents, poverty, and percent population tested. Conclusions: Knowledge about the spatial aspects of the COVID-19 epidemic and its socioeconomic correlates can inform first responders and government efforts. Directives for social distancing and to “shelter-in-place” should continue to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-445
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Rural Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • COVID-19
  • metropolitan areas
  • pandemic
  • rural or nonmetropolitan
  • spatial disparities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Spatial Disparities in Coronavirus Incidence and Mortality in the United States: An Ecological Analysis as of May 2020'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this