Vox reports on the connection between COVID deaths and broadband access…
Two years into the pandemic, researchers are still trying to understand what makes some people more likely than others to die from Covid-19. Although we know some of the risk factors — like age and underlying disease — others are less obvious. Identifying them could ease our current pain, protect communities from future epidemics, and point us toward some of the societal fractures we should most urgently try to mend.
One of the more surprising answers to this question is one that appears to have a relatively straightforward solution: internet access.
This March, researchers at the University of Chicago published a study in the journal JAMA Network Open that showed one of the factors most consistently associated with a high risk of death due to Covid-19 in the US was the lack of internet access, whether broadband, dial-up, or cellular. This was regardless of other demographic risk factors like socioeconomic status, education, age, disability, rent burden, health insurance coverage, or immigration status.
The study authors estimated that for every additional 1 percent of residents in a county who have internet access, between 2.4 and six deaths per 100,000 people could be prevented, depending on the makeup of the region.
Why is lack on broadband a factor?
These inequities were not created by chance. In the US, private internet service providers developed the infrastructure for broadband internet access where it was profitable. As a consequence, many of the country’s most marginalized communities have the fewest, most expensive, and lowest-quality choices when it comes to an internet service provider.
As those access gaps persisted over the years, more and more health services came online. That left those without access unable to use telemedicine, or even easily look up information about health conditions. Over the last few years, researchers have started to see internet access, and in particular high-speed broadband, as a critical component of health — something vital for connecting people not only with health care, but also with food, housing, education, and income, all of which are considered social determinants of health.
Then, as Covid-19 pushed routine health care provider visits into the telehealth space, people without internet access — many of them already medically underserved — found health care even harder to access. Home broadband drew a sharper line than ever before between haves and have-nots; access to internet bandwidth suddenly determined access to educational instruction, economic stability, food pantry sign-ups, vaccine availability and safety information, human contact, and so many other resources.