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United States & World

Researcher Finds Evictions Are Associated With More Than 10,000 Deaths From COVID-19

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Like much of the response to the coronavirus across the U.S., for housing, it has been uneven, very much a patchwork. The CDC has an order to stop evictions. Meanwhile, each state has taken a different approach, and thousands of people are being evicted despite the order. Still, the federal order has been protecting many, and it is expiring at the end of this month, which leaves millions of people vulnerable to losing their homes. Now a new UCLA paper out this week directly links evictions to the spread of COVID-19. Kathryn Leifheit is one of the lead researchers on that study. She joins us now.

Welcome.

KATHRYN LEIFHEIT: Thank you.

KELLY: Is what is happening here just the obvious - that if someone gets evicted, they might well move in with family or friends, and then the number of people that they're in contact with and exposed to is growing?

LEIFHEIT: Yep. It's as intuitive as that. It's difficult to socially distance and shelter in place if you don't have a shelter.

KELLY: Were you able to control for things like stay-at-home orders, mask orders? How were you able to identify that this was specifically linked to an eviction?

LEIFHEIT: So we look at the state level. There were 44 states that ever had moratoriums, and 27 of them lifted their moratoriums. We did our best to account for the factors that we know are important in COVID transmission, such as mask mandates, testing rates, stay-at-home orders and school closures.

KELLY: Did what you found surprise you?

LEIFHEIT: Yeah. I think whenever you see numbers like 430,000 cases, 10,000 deaths, it's surprising, and it's troubling. These are deaths that could have been prevented had the states maintained their moratoriums.

KELLY: Did you find any interesting data where the situations varied in interesting ways from state to state?

LEIFHEIT: So the biggest driver of cases and deaths are the state's population. And lifting the moratorium earlier was associated with more cases and deaths. So Texas really stands out as a state with a lot of cases and deaths associated with lifting their moratorium. I believe it's in the neighborhood of 150,000 cases and 4,500 deaths that could have been prevented by maintaining their moratorium.

KELLY: Did your research look at whether different groups of people might be affected differently if this ban expires?

LEIFHEIT: So we weren't able to look directly at that. But we know that Black and Latinx families are more likely to be evicted. We also know that these are the same communities that are bearing the brunt of COVID. So moratoriums can help these families remain housed and stay safe during the pandemic. And they might also keep COVID disparities from growing larger.

KELLY: Now, I need to note that your study has not been peer-reviewed yet. You're getting it out there early just because it's urgent. This is time-sensitive information. What are you hoping the impact will be?

LEIFHEIT: Yeah. So the CDC moratorium is set to expire at the end of the year. That's four weeks away. And it's in the setting of over a million new COVID cases a week. So state and federal policymakers need to extend these protections to make sure that families and their communities can stay safe. Individuals have a bit of a role in this, too. You know, tenants can understand their protections under the CDC moratorium, help their neighbors understand theirs and then reach out for legal aid.

KELLY: As always, I know when we're talking about data, I know you're looking at the numbers. But it's not lost on any of us that every one of these numbers is a real person. How did you think about that as you worked on this and wrote up your research?

LEIFHEIT: I did my PhD in Baltimore and every day was in contact with people that were living in deep poverty and struggling to make rent. So I think about those faces and those people. And it really is a human tragedy, not just numbers.

KELLY: That is Kathryn Leifheit from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Thank you.

LEIFHEIT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOMBOX'S "MIDNIGHT ON THE RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.