Bans on Evictions, Utility Shutoffs Curb COVID Infections

MONDAY, February 8, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Bans on evictions and utility cuts during the pandemic may not only keep people safe and warm in their homes: they could also limit the spread of COVID-19, according to new research.

In the first nine months of the pandemic, the study found that U.S. counties with these policies reduced COVID-19 infection rates by about 4%.

The impact on deaths appeared to be greater: Moratoriums on evictions, in particular, were linked to an 11% decrease in COVID-related deaths, while bans on disconnecting utilities were linked to a 7% drop .

The results cannot prove that the housing protections directly prevented COVID-19 infections, the researchers said.

But the team, at Duke University, took into account many other factors that could explain the link, including state and federal actions taken at the time, from stay-at-home orders to masked warrants. They also weighed information on county demographics, such as median income 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 that makes sense, according to researcher Kay Jowers, senior policy associate at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

When people are forced to leave their homes, they probably have to move in with family or friends, or go to shelters. During a pandemic, where social distancing is essential, it makes people more vulnerable, Jowers pointed out.

While some people in these overcrowded households are also essential workers, the situation is even more risky, she noted.

Earlier in the pandemic, the federal government temporarily suspended evictions that were due to expire on January 31, 2021. It has since been extended until March 31, 2021.

But this national ban was flawed, and local policies helped strengthen tenant protection, according to Diane Yentel, chair of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition in Washington, DC.

Yentel agreed that these measures likely helped contain the spread of COVID-19 by preventing Americans from accessing collective housing.

“Even before the pandemic, it was clear that housing is a health care issue,” said Yentel, who was not involved in the new study.

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