by Charlie Nusbaum

The long term effects of COVID-19 and the populations affected are still not yet fully understood. Despite the level of uncertainty still surrounding this virus, we do know two things: 1) individuals with comorbidities, i.e. preexisting medical conditions, are most at risk and 2) social distancing works. This is evident in a March 26 report released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and a 2007 study of nonpharmaceutical interventions implented during the 1918-1919 pandemic. The corollary to these two facts is that the elderly who tend to have weaker immune systems or existing medical conditions and those who cannot effectively social distance are particularly susceptible. But how many of these individuals reside in Santa Barbara County? Moreover, where in Santa Barbara County are they?

The age distribution of Santa Barbara County is shown in the table below. Evidently, the age cohort mix of Santa Barbara County residents has remained largely unchanged over the past 5 years. The estimated median age of inidivuals in the county is roughly 34 years of age, roughly four years below that of the United States according to recent estimates from the Cencus Bureau. Still, Santa Barbara County has a large number of at risk persons. In fact, those aged 65+ amke up 15.6% of our population. According to the CDC 8 out of 10 deaths reported in the United States have come from this population.

Age is not the only concern. The population density, and in particular the number of persons per household, of Santa Barbara County is also key to understanding how any viral outbreak including COVID-19 is likely to affect our communities. Even with strict adherence to stay-at-home orders, it may be difficult for some in our community to effectively avoid interpersonal contact. If, for example, a household consists of only two individuals, then each household member only need be wary of one additional person's health. If instead the household consists of four individuals, then each member need be wary of three additional person's actions and/or health. A potential consequence of a high number of persons per household is that viruses have a greater potential to spread the more each member of the household leaves to shop, go to work, etc.

The graph below displays the distribution of household size for both North and South County. While both regions of Santa Barbara County have a high number one and two person households, North County has substantially more high density households. In fact, households containing more than four persons make up 22.0% of households in North County whereas they make up only 11.6% of households in South County. Of particular note is the relatively high number of 7+ person households in North County.

Related to the above concerns, is the fact that low income indivduals are likely to be impacted more substantially than other populations, both directly due to health concerns and indirectly due to things like hoarding. It is well known that the impoverished tend to have worse health outcomes than high income individuals. According to The Office of Disease and Health Promotion, those with low socioeconomic status, i.e. income level, education, and occupational status, are more likely to experience heart disease, diabetes, have higher rates of disability, and higher mortality rates. Moreover, financially constrained individuals are substantially more limited with respect to what types of groceries they can afford. Additionally, those who rely SNAP benefits may more limited with respect to food options: they cannot purchase prepared food if the grocery store shelves are empty. These concerns are particularly important given the extent to which grocery store stocks have been strained over the past several weeks.

The graph below shows the distribution of household income in North and South County. It also displays in red the income groups for which all members are below the federal poverty line for a household consisting of four individuals ($26,200). This cutoff is of course an underestimate of those that are financially constrained in relatively high cost of living areas. Both regions have roughly the same number of impoverished households as defined above. Evidently, however, North County has significantly fewer high income households relative to South County, with a much larger dropoff following the most common income group of $50,000-$75,000.