Census Tract Patterns and Contextual Social Determinants of Health Associated With COVID-19 in a Hispanic Population From South Texas: A Spatiotemporal Perspective

JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2021 Aug 5;7(8):e29205. doi: 10.2196/29205.


Background: Previous studies have shown that various social determinants of health (SDOH) may have contributed to the disparities in COVID-19 incidence and mortality among minorities and underserved populations at the county or zip code level.

Objective: This analysis was carried out at a granular spatial resolution of census tracts to explore the spatial patterns and contextual SDOH associated with COVID-19 incidence from a Hispanic population mostly consisting of a Mexican American population living in Cameron County, Texas on the border of the United States and Mexico. We performed age-stratified analysis to identify different contributing SDOH and quantify their effects by age groups.

Methods: We included all reported COVID-19-positive cases confirmed by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction testing between March 18 (first case reported) and December 16, 2020, in Cameron County, Texas. Confirmed COVID-19 cases were aggregated to weekly counts by census tracts. We adopted a Bayesian spatiotemporal negative binomial model to investigate the COVID-19 incidence rate in relation to census tract demographics and SDOH obtained from the American Community Survey. Moreover, we investigated the impact of local mitigation policy on COVID-19 by creating the binary variable "shelter-in-place." The analysis was performed on all COVID-19-confirmed cases and age-stratified subgroups.

Results: Our analysis revealed that the relative incidence risk (RR) of COVID-19 was higher among census tracts with a higher percentage of single-parent households (RR=1.016, 95% posterior credible intervals [CIs] 1.005, 1.027) and a higher percentage of the population with limited English proficiency (RR=1.015, 95% CI 1.003, 1.028). Lower RR was associated with lower income (RR=0.972, 95% CI 0.953, 0.993) and the percentage of the population younger than 18 years (RR=0.976, 95% CI 0.959, 0.993). The most significant association was related to the "shelter-in-place" variable, where the incidence risk of COVID-19 was reduced by over 50%, comparing the time periods when the policy was present versus absent (RR=0.506, 95% CI 0.454, 0.563). Moreover, age-stratified analyses identified different significant contributing factors and a varying magnitude of the "shelter-in-place" effect.

Conclusions: In our study, SDOH including social environment and local emergency measures were identified in relation to COVID-19 incidence risk at the census tract level in a highly disadvantaged population with limited health care access and a high prevalence of chronic conditions. Results from our analysis provide key knowledge to design efficient testing strategies and assist local public health departments in COVID-19 control, mitigation, and implementation of vaccine strategies.

Keywords: Bayesian; COVID-19; health inequity; social determinants of health; spatial pattern; underserved population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • Censuses
  • Female
  • Health Equity
  • Hispanic or Latino*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mexico / ethnology
  • Middle Aged
  • Minority Groups
  • Physical Distancing
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Determinants of Health*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Texas / epidemiology
  • United States
  • Vulnerable Populations
  • Young Adult