RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Areas that halted evictions and utility shutoffs during the pandemic had fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to a study published by Duke University researchers.
Local rules to stop evictions and the disconnections of water and electricity across the country resulted in an 8.2 percent drop in the number of cases in those areas from March through November.
And while for many counties, the primary motivation of those efforts was to assist people struggling financially due to the pandemic, one of the co-authors of the study says they found a demonstrable effect on the spread of the virus.
“We’re seeing that the benefit of these policies is not only for those few people who are experiencing housing insecurity and not being able to pay utility bills, but for the entire community,” said Kay Jowers, a senior policy associate at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. “This reduces everyone’s exposure to infections.”
The study found stopping evictions resulted in a 3.8 percent reduction in COVID-19 cases and an 11 percent drop in deaths. Halting utility shutoffs led to reductions of 4.4 percent in cases and 7.4 percent in deaths.
Many of those areas halting those efforts frequently did so later in the pandemic, lasting for different periods of time.
The researchers conclude that if those measures were enacted nationally at the beginning of March — before the declaration of a state of emergency and other social restrictions of varying severity were implemented — an eviction ban would have resulted in a 14.2 percent drop in cases and a reduction of up to 40.7 percent in the number of deaths.
Additionally, stopping utility shutoffs would have reduced cases by 8.7 percent and deaths by 14.8 percent.
There have been more than 25 million COVID19 cases and nearly 425,000 deaths in the U.S. since the pandemic started. The projected reductions would have compounded during the nine months included in the study.
Dr. Christopher Timmins, another of the co-authors, described the relationship between moratoria and cases and deaths as a “causal treatment effect.
“There’s nothing else sort of lurking in the background that could explain it,” he said.
Jowers said one explanation might be that people who are evicted are more likely to move in with other people, and those extended households increase the likelihood of viral spread — especially for essential workers who are mostly unable to work remotely.
And people who are in danger of having their utilities shut off are generally more likely to be at risk of eviction, she said.
“If a household is sort of tipping … we wanted to look at the impact of the policies that might actually help keep people from becoming at risk of eviction as well,” she said.