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New Research Suggests Air Pollution Makes COVID-19 Even More Deadly

Sunset over an oil and gas field in Uintah Basin in Utah.
Sunset over an oil and gas field in Uintah Basin in Utah.

A new study has found that long-term air pollution increases COVID-19 mortality rates.

 Click 'play' to hear the audio version of this story.

The Harvard University researchers behind the study, which used data from 3,000 counties across the U.S., found that a small increase in long-term exposure to fine particulate matter leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate.

“The impact is 20 times larger on COVID mortality than it is on mortality in general,” said Rachel Nethery, a co-author of the study.

Nethery said her team was interested in where COVID-19 and air pollution overlap: pre-existing conditions.

“A lot of the pre-existing conditions that seem to lead to people having really severe COVID outcomes were also pre-existing conditions that we know are caused by air pollution,” she said.

The study focused on long-term, chronic pollution, like what you’d see in New York, so what the findings mean for much of the Mountain West is unclear.

Air pollution in the region tends to be seasonal. In cities such as Denver and Salt Lake City, ozone pollution peaks in the summer, while oil and gas development in the region can cause ozone to spike in the winter. And then there’s seasonal and intermittent wildfire smoke.

“The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis,” the authors wrote.

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Do you have questions about COVID-19? How has this crisis affected you? Our reporters would love to hear from you. You can submit your question or share your story here.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News

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