TORONTO – A new study out of the US shows a correlation between minimal greenspace and higher rates of COVID-19 in low-income neighborhoods.

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The study, titled “Nature inequality and high COVID-19 case rates in less green neighborhoods in the United States,” was published last week in the journal. nature stability. It analyzed two datasets that compared access to greenspace and COVID-19 case rates for zip codes in 17 states.

The researchers documented what they called “stacked inequalities,” which in this case meant that low-income and multiracial ethnic communities have both more COVID-19 cases and less nature accessible to them in urban settings.

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The study also examined whether there is a relationship between access to nature and COVID-19 rates after accounting for race, ethnicity, income and other variables – an association enhanced by data that showed contact with nature, the body’s capacity can play an important role. Fight infections by promoting what are known as “natural killers” or NK cells that attack and kill virally infected cells.

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The researchers found that most zip codes that were home to ethnic communities had both higher COVID-19 rates and less access to greenspace. As of September 30, 2020, ZIP codes with racial-majority residents had nearly twice as many COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people as majority-white ZIP codes, the study said.

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Less green zip codes also had higher rates of COVID-19 cases, even after researchers adjusted for variables such as population density, race and ethnicity, income, previously reported COVID-19 cases, age, and state. even after it was done.

The study analyzed and modeled a 4.1 percent reduction in COVID-19 cases, with only a 0.1 percent increase in access to greenspace.

“Our research shows how the COVID-19 pandemic can exacerbate existing inequality,” said lead study author Erica Spotswood. in a news release. “The disparity in access to nature in US cities has been shown to have many health effects, and it now appears that this has also had a significant health impact during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The results suggest that COVID-19 has put “the greatest burden” on communities that face wide disparities in access to nature, the study said.

“Using zip code-scale data, we show that communities with the least access to nature had the highest rates of COVID-19 … We also show that inequality in access to greenery and parks is widespread in the United States. ,” says the study. “Taken together, our results demonstrate that the pandemic has compounded the damage in low-income areas and communities that already face fewer acres of park available for recreation and less greenery.”

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Researchers say in the study that access to greenspace may affect COVID-19 case rates, as greenspace helps the body fight the virus by increasing NK cells, which in turn, the study says, is enhanced by exposure to nature. Is.

“There is actually a very clear potential explanation for the protective effect against COVID-19 for nature,” study co-author Ming Kuo said in the release. “We know that spending time in a park or woods boosts our ‘natural killer cells’ – our body’s army to fight off viral infections – and that a person’s residential area is less likely to be greener , are less likely to come down with a variety of viral infections. Basically, when we are exposed to a virus – any virus – our natural killer soldiers try to eliminate it quickly, before it turn into a full-blown case or cause symptoms.”

“This is true for all the viruses we studied, so it would be no surprise that this is also true of the virus underlying COVID,” she continued. “In addition, scientists have discovered a whole host of other ways in which nature helps fight disease—by reducing stress, etc. So, it would actually be more puzzling if we could find that nature’s Does not have a protective effect against COVID-19.”

The authors say that another possible explanation for the correlation between nature and COVID-19 is that higher air pollution and temperatures have previously been related to higher COVID-19 case rates, something that greenspaces and nature greenspaces and lack of access to. helps to reduce Nature means people can socialize more indoors, where infections may be more likely to occur in close quarters.

The researchers said the study showed that inequality in access to nature has an impact on mental health and social interactions “during periods of intense social and economic upheaval and mental health crisis.”

The study’s authors say that short-term expansion of access to nature could help alleviate some of the crises associated with the pandemic and that recognizing the public health impacts of nature’s inequality can make access to nature important to support broader public health initiatives. Redefining it as infrastructure might help. long term.