New Resource to Identify Communities at High Risk for Severe Illness from COVID-19 and Increased Healthcare Utilization

Photo of Christina Shay, PhD, FAHAChristina M. Shay, PhD, FAHA, Director, Impact and Health Metrics, American Heart Association

The Center for Health Metrics and Evaluation (CHME) has developed a data visualization resource to identify communities with population characteristics associated with high rates of severe COVID-19 illness, which can help pinpoint localities at high risk for increased use of healthcare services and increased resource needs.

This resource is intended to help quickly and easily identify communities where 1) additional preventive measures to mitigate COVID-19 transmission would be most beneficial, and 2) COVID-19 outbreak clusters may lead to high healthcare utilization. This information will support strategic implementation of efforts to reduce spread of the virus and/or prepare for increases in healthcare utilization in the event of regional outbreaks.

Although limited information is available about risk factors for developing severe complications from COVID-19, available data and clinical expertise has led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify older adults (65+ years) and people with certain underlying health conditions (regardless of age) as having greater likelihood for severe illness if they contract this new disease.

County-level prevalence estimates of the identified health conditions are not consistently available, but surrogate measures (such as mortality rates related to cardiovascular diseases) can provide indirect insight into a community’s potential disease burden. The following table lists examples of characteristics and health conditions associated with severe COVID-19 complications with examples of the direct or surrogate measures available:

Characteristic or Health Condition Associated with Severe COVID-19 Illness County-Level Population Estimate (Direct or Surrogate)
65+ years of age % population 65+ years of age (direct)
Serious heart conditions Crude mortality rate from all cardiovascular diseases per 100,000 people (surrogate)
Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma Air Pollution – Particulate Matter (surrogate)
Diseases or conditions causing immunosuppression HIV prevalence (direct)
Diabetes Diabetes prevalence (direct)
Severe obesity (body mass index ≥40 kg/m²) Obesity prevalence (surrogate)

In addition to bringing together key county-level data elements, other features of this resource enhance its utility for helping prevent and prepare for COVID-19 and other current and future public health issues:

  • Progressive color coding that allows easy identification of counties in the highest nationwide percentiles for each risk factor
  • Option to select a specific county and/or risk factor to examine

Since the understanding of COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, CHME will continually add new data and features to this resource to support local, state, and national partners in their public health prevention and treatment efforts related to COVID-19 and beyond.