Spatial Variation in Socio-ecological Vulnerability to COVID-19 in the Contiguous United States

38 Pages Posted: 5 May 2020

See all articles by Brian Snyder

Brian Snyder

Department of Environmental Science

Vanessa Parks

Center for Population Studies

Date Written: April 28, 2020


The health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic vary across space because social, economic, health and ecological factors are also spatially variable. Social vulnerability indices are attempts to create a relative ranking of vulnerability to a natural or anthropogenic hazard across space and have been widely used to quantify community vulnerability to natural disasters. Here, we develop a hierarchical socio-ecological vulnerability index that compares counties in the contiguous United States based on 18 variables grouped into four dimensions (ecological, social, health, and economic) in order to capture a range of factors that might contribute to community vulnerability to COVID-19. Variables were chosen based on a review of the emerging literature about the factors associated with poor health outcomes from COVID-19, information about the economic sectors most at risk from the pandemic and pandemic response, and existing social vulnerability indices. We find that socio-ecological vulnerability to COVID-19 and its related economic effects varies across the contiguous U.S., with especially high vulnerability in the Southeast U.S. and especially low vulnerability in the Upper Midwest, Great Plains, and Mountain West.

Note: Funding: This COVID-19 Working Group effort was supported by the National Science Foundation-funded Social Science Extreme Events Research (SSEER) Network and the CONVERGE facility at the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder (NSF Award #1841338).

Conflict of Interest: The authors declared no competing interest.

Ethical Approval: The authors declare that this project was done re-analyzing existing publicly available and de-identified data. It was exempt from IRB review.

Keywords: Coronavirus; COVID-19; socioeconomic; vulnerability; pandemic

Suggested Citation

Snyder, Brian and Parks, Vanessa, Spatial Variation in Socio-ecological Vulnerability to COVID-19 in the Contiguous United States (April 28, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Brian Snyder (Contact Author)

Department of Environmental Science ( email )

Baton Rouge, LA 70803
United States

Vanessa Parks

Center for Population Studies ( email )

Oxford, MS 38677
United States

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