Trends in Violent Penetrating Injuries During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic

JAMA Netw Open. 2022 Feb 1;5(2):e2145708. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.45708.


Importance: Public health measures instituted to reduce the spread of COVID-19 led to severe disruptions to the structure of daily life, and the resultant social and financial impact may have contributed to an increase in violence.

Objective: To examine the trends in violent penetrating injuries during the first COVID-19 pandemic year compared with previous years.

Design, setting, and participants: This retrospective cross-sectional study was performed to compare the prevalence of violent penetrating injuries during the first COVID-19 pandemic year, March 2020 to February 2021, with the previous 5 years, March 2015 to February 2020. This study was performed among all patients with a violent penetrating injury presenting at Boston Medical Center, an urban, level I trauma center that is the largest safety-net hospital and busiest trauma center in New England. Data were analyzed from January 4 to November 29, 2021.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcomes were the incidence and timing of emergency department presentation for violent penetrating injuries during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with the previous 5 years. Patient demographics and injury characteristics were also assessed.

Results: A total of 2383 patients (median [IQR] age, 29.5 [23.4-39.3] years; 2032 [85.4%] men and 351 [14.6%] women) presenting for a violent penetrating injury were evaluated, including 1567 Black patients (65.7%), 448 Hispanic patients (18.8%), and 210 White patients (8.8%). There was an increase in injuries during the first pandemic year compared with the previous 5 years, with an increase in shootings (mean [SD], 0.61 [0.89] injuries per day vs 0.46 [0.76] injuries per day; P = .002) but not stabbings (mean [SD], 0.60 [0.79] injuries per day vs 0.60 [0.82] injuries per day; P = .78). This surge in firearm violence began while Massachusetts was still under a stay-at-home advisory and before large-scale racial justice protests began. Patients presenting with violent penetrating injuries in the pandemic surge months (April-October 2020) compared with the same period in previous years were disproportionately male (153 patients [93.3%] vs 510 patients [87.6%]; P = .04), unemployed (70 patients [57.4%] vs 221 patients [46.6%]; P = .03), and Hispanic (40 patients [26.0%] vs 99 patients [17.9%]; P = .009), with a concurrent decrease in White patients (0 patients vs 26 patients [4.7%]), and were more likely to have no previous history of violent penetrating injury (146 patients [89.0%] vs 471 patients [80.9%]; P = .02).

Conclusions and relevance: These findings suggest that unprecedented measures implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 were associated with an increase in gun violence. As the pandemic abates, efforts at community violence prevention and intervention must be redoubled to defend communities against the epidemic of violence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Boston / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Pandemics*
  • Quarantine
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Wounds, Gunshot / epidemiology
  • Wounds, Penetrating / epidemiology*
  • Wounds, Penetrating / ethnology
  • Wounds, Stab / epidemiology
  • Young Adult