The Effects of Increased Pollution on COVID-19 Cases and Deaths

55 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2020 Last revised: 3 May 2021

Date Written: June 22, 2020


The SARS-COV-2 virus, also known as the coronavirus, has spread around the world. While a growing literature suggests that exposure to pollution can cause respiratory illness and increase deaths among the elderly, little is known about whether increases in pollution could cause additional or more severe infections from COVID-19, which typically manifests as a respiratory infection. Using variation in pollution induced by a rollback of enforcement of environmental regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a difference in differences design, we estimate the effects of increased pollution on county-level COVID-19 deaths and cases. We find that counties with more Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) sites saw a 13 percent increase in pollution on average following the EPA’s rollback of enforcement, compared to counties with fewer TRI sites. We also find that these policy-induced increases in pollution are associated with a 38.8 percent increase in cases and a 19.1 percent increase in deaths from COVID-19.

Note: Funding: American University School of Public Affairs

Declaration of Interest: None to declare

Keywords: air pollution, COVID-19, health, mortality

JEL Classification: Q53, I10, I14

Suggested Citation

Persico, Claudia and Johnson, Kathryn R., The Effects of Increased Pollution on COVID-19 Cases and Deaths (June 22, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Claudia Persico (Contact Author)

American University ( email )

School of Public Affairs
Kerwin Hall, 4400 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Kathryn R. Johnson

American University

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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