Crop of Fig. 2: Inferred cases and reported tests conducted for the Greater Santiago area.

COVID-19 hit the world’s cities especially hard, and some of the worst suffering occurred in economically depressed neighborhoods. In Santiago, Chile, for example, low-income people were more likely to contract and die from the disease than residents in other parts of the capital city, according to new research published in the journal Science

So why the difference? In analyzing incidence and mortality data collected by government agencies, as well as testing capacity and delays, the research team,* which included SFI External Professor Pablo Marquet and former Omidyar Postdoctoral Fellow Caroline Buckee, found significant socioeconomic disparities in access to health care across the 34 municipalities that comprise the Greater Santiago area. Covid testing and health care overall were less available in low-income areas. The team also found behavioral differences: Using anonymized mobile phone data, obtained from the Facebook Data for Good Initiative, the researchers determined that while people in more affluent areas largely remained sequestered during lockdowns, those in economically depressed areas tended to be more mobile — particularly younger people. That finding is consistent with previous studies of New York City neighborhoods, and “supports the hypothesis that people in poorer regions cannot afford to stay at home during lockdowns,” the authors wrote. 

Read the paper, Socioeconomic status determines COVID-19 incidence and related mortality in Santiago, Chile” in Science (April 27, 2021)


*Gonzalo Mena (Oxford), Pamela Martinez (Harvard, University of Illinois), Ayesha Mahmud (Harvard, UC Berkeley), Pablo Marquet (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santa Fe Institute), Caroline Buckee (Harvard), and Mauricio Santillana (Harvard, Boston Children's Hospital) are co-authors on the paper.