people in line for COVID-19 testing
Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

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If Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration needs more reason to prioritize vaccinations based on zip code, it should look no further than the latest report published by the Office of the D.C. Auditor. A report prepared by Talus Analytics concludes that wards with larger populations of residents who are unable to work from home are the same ones most impacted by COVID-19. This is a racial equity issue, given that these areas are home to more Black and Brown residents. 

DC Health is selecting groups of residents for vaccination with two priorities in mind: preventing serious illness or death and maintaining a functional society. Individuals in nursing homes and residents over 65 are currently getting vaccinated as morbidity and mortality prevention. “The majority of the vaccine will be focused on the morbidity and mortality track because that is really directed to saving lives,” said Dr. Ankoor Shah of DC Health. The D.C. Auditor report suggests that prioritizing essential and frontline workers would both save lives and preserve societal functions.  

The report pulls data from the federal and local government, along with SafeGraph. Three graphics in the 22-page report demonstrate inequities by ward and neighborhood, but also complicate the conclusion.

The first and second graphics show whether residents obeyed Bowser’s stay-at-home order and other social distancing mandates, which began at the start of spring, and explore why they had or had not. Mobility data shows Ward 7 and 8 residents—neighborhoods that include Deanwood, Anacostia, and Congress Heights—stayed home at lower rates during the stay-at-home order. “By October, the disparity between wards remained, and although there was a 30% sustained increase in fully stay-at-home behavior citywide, Ward 3 still had a nearly 50% increase in devices measured as staying entirely at home, while Wards 7 and 8 were at 19% and 14% respectively,” the report reads. (Ward 3 includes Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, and Tenleytown.)

The report also says that “The ability for any individual to change their behavior is part choice, part necessity.” Ward 7 and 8 residents also were less likely to have a job that allowed them to work remotely. This is to say, more workers in these wards were deemed essential. Meanwhile, over 50 percent of residents living in Wards 1, 2, 3, and 6 had jobs that likely supported the transition to work from home. Higher income correlated with remote work.

The third graphic unpacks case fatality rates across the District. Ward 8 has the highest rate. The ward with the highest case fatality rate also has one of the youngest populations. The report says further analysis is needed to explain why. Age is considered to be one of the, if not the most, significant risk factors for dying after contracting COVID-19. “The greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older,” according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention. Notably, the ward with one of the largest proportions of seniors—17 percent of residents are 65 or older—is Ward 3. This ward also has the lowest case fatality rate.

Data out of Wards 4 and 5—neighborhoods include 16th Street Heights, Ivy City, and Trinidad—requires more exploration as well. The report says more analysis is needed to understand why these wards are seeing more cases even though they do not have as many essential or frontline workers as Wards 7 and 8. Wards 4 and 5 also have higher rates of infection but lower fatality rates than Ward 8. The report notes that Wards 4 and 5 have the highest number of workers in the healthcare industries: Ward 4 is home to home health care workers and Ward 5 is home to general medical personnel. 

The publication of the report couldn’t be more timely. The Council is holding a hearing about the District’s response to the coronavirus pandemic this Friday and Monday. Lawmakers want to hear from residents about how to improve the vaccination rollout.     

—Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips?

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