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Mapping a COVID-19 vulnerability: Areas of South and Midwest have fewer hospital beds and higher smoking rates

Alarmingly, areas of the country with high rates of smoking are also among those with lower hospital capacity.  This shows how some communities that may be more vulnerable to the coronavirus are also located in areas least equipped to handle an outbreak.

This issue is of particular concern in Tobacco Nation—a collection of 13 states with a large number of rural communities in the Midwest and South, where the average adult smoking rate (21%) exceeds the rest of the nation (15%). Public health officials have identified smoking as a risk factor for both being infected by COVID-19 and for developing more severe outcomes from the virus, which attacks the lungs.

Tobacco Nation Hospital Map

Using data on smoking rates and recently available information on the number of hospital beds in all U.S. counties, Truth Initiative researchers found that some of the most prominent areas with both higher smoking rates and lower hospital capacity are in Tobacco Nation and other counties in the Midwestern and Southern U.S. states.

Tobacco Nation – Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia ­– shares not only greater tobacco use but fewer overall healthcare resources, higher poverty, and poor health outcomes in general. This makes some of their residents particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 if the virus continues to spread in these communities. The above map illustrates just one way to consider the preparedness of our healthcare systems and the communities they serve as COVID-19 remains an ongoing public health emergency.