• The Surgo Foundation added epidemiological and healthcare system factors to the CDC's Social Vulnerability Index for its analysis
  • U.S. coronavirus cases surged past 1 million Tuesday with more than 57,500 deaths
  • The foundation predicted the worst is yet to come in the most vulnerable counties

As the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the United States surged past 1 million Tuesday, an analysis indicated southern states are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than other areas for a number of reasons, including policy decisions made long before the pandemic erupted.

More than 57,500 Americans have died from the deadly pathogen, nearly 18,000 in New York City alone. But despite the aggregate numbers, the pandemic could prove more deadly in the South.

The Surgo Foundation created a vulnerability index, mapping areas where residents are in the most danger as a result of such factors as overall health, access to medical care and public policy regarding the outbreak. The index incorporated the Centers for Disease Control’s Social Vulnerability Index with epidemiological and healthcare system factors to determine the rankings.

“With places like Louisiana reporting that the majority of COVID-related deaths stem from patients with underlying conditions … and stories from New York about overwhelmed healthcare systems, … it is abundantly clear that these factors are critical to assessing vulnerability to COVID-19,” Surgo said in a Medium post.

The organization warned efforts by southern states to lift restrictions meant to stem spread of the virus before infections subside will create a “perfect storm” that will make the situation worse because a disproportionate percentage of its communities will be least able to fight the virus.

Mississippi ranks as the most vulnerable state, followed by Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Alabama. New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, North Dakota and Wisconsin ranked as the least vulnerable. Mississippi had half of the 10 most vulnerable counties in the country – 71% of the most vulnerable communities are concentrated in the South – while Colorado had half of the 10 least vulnerable countries.

“The Northeast has been the hardest hit region so far, yet it only contains 1% of the vulnerable communities in the U.S. The worst is yet to come for many of the nation’s most vulnerable communities,” Surgo said in another Medium post.

The index analyzed socioeconomic status, household composition and disability, minority status and language, housing and transportation, epidemiological factors and healthcare system factors to help decisionmakers target resources.

“Unexpectedly, the Northeast of the U.S., which we previously reported as being one of the least vulnerable regions to COVID-19, lights up when focusing on epidemiological risk factors alone,” Surgo noted.

“This tells us that while many counties across the U.S. have some vulnerability, it is the particular combination of those vulnerabilities that makes a community more susceptible to negative outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to consider all six themes together, because focusing on just social vulnerability alone is only part of the picture.”