MONDAY, Feb. 8, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Bans on evictions and utility shutoffs during the pandemic may not only be keeping people safe and warm in their homes: They might also limit the spread of COVID-19, new research suggests.
Over the first nine months of the pandemic, the study found, U.S. counties with those policies reduced COVID-19 infection rates by about 4%.
The impact on deaths appeared greater: Moratoria on evictions, specifically, were linked to an 11% decrease in COVID-related deaths, while bans on utility disconnections were tied to a 7% decline.
The findings cannot prove that housing protections directly prevented COVID-19 infections, the researchers said.
But the team, from Duke University, accounted for many other factors that might explain the connection, including state and federal actions taken at the time, from stay-at-home orders to mask mandates. They also weighed information on counties’ demographics, like median incomes and health insurance coverage, the percentage of older adults, and the percentage of people with obesity or diabetes.
Still, policies to keep people housed seemed to matter.
And it makes sense, according to researcher Kay Jowers, a senior policy associate at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, in Durham, N.C.
When people are forced out of their homes, they likely have to move in with family or friends, or go to shelters. During a pandemic, where social distancing is critical, that makes people more vulnerable, Jowers pointed out.
If some people in those crowded households are also essential workers, the situation is even more risky, she noted.
Earlier in the pandemic, the federal government issued a temporary halt on evictions that was set to expire Jan. 31, 2021. It has since been extended to March 31, 2021.
But that national ban had shortcomings, and local policies helped strengthen protections for tenants, according to Diane Yentel, president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, in Washington, D.C.
Yentel agreed that those measures likely helped contain the spread of COVID-19 by keeping Americans out of communal housing.
“Even pre-pandemic, it was clear that housing is health care,” said Yentel, who was not involved in the new study.