Dr. Gretchen Goldman: These are groundbreaking new findings on the relationship between PM2.5 air pollution and COVID-19. What are the key findings?
Dr. Francesca Dominici: To our knowledge, this is the first study that quantifies on a national scale the potential increase in COVID mortality rate that is associated with long-term exposure to air pollution. We use data from counties that account for 90% of the COVID-19 deaths in the US as of April 4, 2020.
The most important result is that we found that people living in counties in the US that have experienced a higher level of air pollution over the past 15-17 years have a substantially higher COVID-19 mortality rate. To quantify, we found that a one unit increase in long-term average exposure to fine particulate matter is associated with a 15% increase in COVID-19 mortality rate on average in the analysis. This increase accounts for adjustments for any systematic differences between county level characteristics [such as population density or smoking rates].
Pittsburgh Post Gazette Article, Don Hopey, April 19, 2020:
Long-term exposure to higher concentrations of airborne particle pollution significantly increases the death rate for those infected with the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, according to a new Harvard University study.
The study, the first to assess the relationship between exposure to fine particles, known as PM2.5, and COVID-19 mortality, also is critical of the Trump administration’s plans to relax enforcement of pollution standards during the ongoing pandemic.