COVID-19 cases and deaths increased after states ended eviction bans: UCLA-led study

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In this Jan. 25, 2021, file photo, demonstrators call passage of rent forgiveness and stronger eviction protections legislation and carry a mock casket past the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

In this Jan. 25, 2021, file photo, demonstrators call passage of rent forgiveness and stronger eviction protections legislation and carry a mock casket past the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

A study led by a team of UCLA researchers found a possible link between statewide eviction moratoriums and an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The study — published Monday in the American Journal of Epidemiology — analyzed data from states that lifted the bans and discovered the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in those places “increased dramatically” afterward, according to a UCLA news release.

In the four-month period following the expiration of a state’s eviction freeze, COVID-19 cases doubled and there was a fivefold increase in deaths from the virus, the study found.

“Those figures suggest that during the summer of 2020, there were 433,700 more COVID-19 cases and 10,700 more deaths in the U.S. than there would have been had moratoriums continued,” the release stated.

By September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 6.3 million COVID-19 cases and 193,000 deaths tied to the disease in the U.S., according to UCLA.

The state-level eviction moratoriums were implemented in 43 states plus Washington, D.C., to protect tenants struggling to pay rent as a wave of stay-at-home orders and shutdowns forced many out of work for months. Of the bans, 27 expired before September while 17 where extended until at least that month.

Nearly 6 1/2 million households were behind on rent payments by the end of this past March, the Associated Press reported, citing the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And U.S. Census Bureau data showed that, at the beginning of June, about 3.2 million residents faced eviction within the following two months, according to AP.

The UCLA-led study’s analysis compared states that continued to bar evictions and those that allowed them to expire. Additionally, researchers looked at other public health measures meant to mitigate COVID’s spread, such as stay-home rules, mask requirements, school closures and virus testing.

“Evictions may have accelerated COVID-19 transmission by decreasing individuals’ ability to socially distance,” Frederick Zimmerman, the study’s senior author, explained in the news release. Zimmerman is a professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Prior research suggested that residents may move into more crowded housing or homeless shelters following an eviction, according to the study’s lead author, Kathryn Leifheit, who is a postdoctoral scholar at the Fielding School, previous research

“Each of those outcomes connotes an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19,” said Leifheit, who is a postdoctoral scholar at the Fielding School. “And an increased risk of eviction may also have forced people to engage in work that exposed them to COVID-19 transmission.”

But the analysis has some limitations, the authors acknowledged. Those include data not being available to measure the actual number of evictions in states with expired freezes and not being able to account for local protections — such as those in Los Angeles — that may have been left in place, the release stated.

Physicians, public health researchers and eviction law specialists from UC San Francisco, Boston University, John Hopkins University and Wake Forest University also contributed to the research.

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