COVID-19 death rates increased significantly when states lifted eviction moratoriums that were put in place to protect renters who could not make payments during the pandemic, according to a UCLA-led study released Monday.
According to the study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 was five times higher in the four months after eviction moratoriums expired, and the number of COVID-19 cases doubled.
"Evictions may have accelerated COVID-19 transmission by decreasing individuals' ability to socially distance," said the study's senior author, Frederick Zimmerman, a professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
Researchers focused on data from Washington, D.C., and 43 states with eviction moratoriums. Twenty-seven of the states lifted the moratoriums before September 2020, and 17 of them extended them at least until September.
The study suggests the United States experienced 433,700 more COVID-19 cases and 10,700 more deaths during the summer of 2020 than it would have if eviction moratoriums remained in place. In total, the nation experienced more than 6.3 million cases of COVID-19 by September 2020 and about 193,000 people died by that time.
"The expiration of eviction moratoriums was associated with increased COVID-19 incidence and mortality, which supports the public-health rationale for eviction prevention to limit COVID-19 cases and deaths," said Dr. Craig Pollack, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The study's lead author, Dr. Kathryn Leifheit, a postdoctoral scholar in epidemiology at the Fielding School, said evictions lead to more people moving into crowded housing or becoming homeless and living in shelters. She added that "each of those outcomes connotes an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19."
People who are facing the threat of eviction also may resort to work that exposes them to the virus and increases their risk of infection and transmission, she said.
While the study found that death rates and case rates increased drastically when eviction moratoriums expired, the researchers acknowledged that their analysis has several limitations. They noted that they were unable to measure the number of evictions that took place in states where moratoriums expired. The study also did not account for local eviction protections that may have remained in effect longer than statewide moratoriums.
When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the federal eviction moratorium through July 31, 2021, it cited pre-published data from the UCLA-led study.
"Specifically, the authors compared the COVID-19 incidence and mortality rates in states that lifted their moratoria with the rates in states that maintained their moratoria," the CDC order stated.
"In these models, the authors accounted for time-varying indicators of each state's test count as well as major public health interventions including lifting stay-at-home orders, school closures, and mask mandates."
The study was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Evidence for Action program and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health through a grant from the Boston University Clinical and Translational Science Institute.