Do Social Isolation and Neighborhood Walkability Influence Relationships Between COVID-19 Experiences and Wellbeing in Predominantly Black Urban Areas?
Published in: Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 217 (January 2022). doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2021.104264
Posted on RAND.org on January 31, 2023
Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19) pandemic. Since the pandemic's start, we have observed compounded health, social, and economic impacts for communities of color, fueled in part by profound residential segregation in the United States that, for centuries prior to the pandemic, created differences in access to opportunity and resources. Based on a longitudinal cohort of Black residents living in two racially isolated Pittsburgh neighborhoods, we sought to: 1) describe the experiences of behavioral responses to COVID-19 conditions (e.g., closures of businesses, schools, government offices) and illness experiences reported by residents within these disinvested, urban areas and 2) determine if these experiences were associated with perceptions of risk, negative mental health outcomes, and food insecurity; and 3) examine whether any of the associations were explained by social isolation or modified by neighborhood walkability. We found direct associations between residents' experience with COVID-19-related closures and with the illness, with perceived risk, and change in psychological distress, sleep quality, and food insecurity from pre-COVID-19 levels. Social isolation was a statistically significant mediator of all of these associations, most strongly mediating the pathway to psychological distress. We found neighborhood walkability to be a significant moderator of the association between closure experiences and sleep quality. The results suggest that experiences of COVID-19 closures and illness were associated with serious threats to public health in Black, disinvested, urban neighborhoods, beyond those caused directly by the virus. Outcomes of the pandemic appear very much dependent on the extent to which social and physical resources are available to meet the demands of stress.