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With coronavirus pushing rich Americans out west, study says infection in high-altitude residents less likely

Cortney Moore

A new study conducted by Bolivia's High Altitude Pulmonary and Pathology Institute suggests that longtime residents in high altitude areas may be less susceptible to coronavirus infection due to evolution, according to the Daily Mail.

The study comes after reports of wealthy Americans moving out West to escape the coronavirus pandemic.

Subjects in the mountainous regions of Bolivia, Ecuador and Tibet reportedly had lower levels of oxygen in their blood compared to those who lived in the lowlands of their respective countries as well as the rest of the world. These subjects also had reduced levels of an ACE2 enzyme, which scientists say is key for the novel coronavirus when it infects host cells.

Despite this genealogical find, it doesn't necessarily mean wealthy residents from other states who have opted for living in mountainous regions out west, temporarily or otherwise, will be less likely to contract coronavirus. Nor does it mean that families who have lived in these mountainous regions for generations will have oxygen and ACE2 enzyme levels as those who live in extreme altitudes.

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The highest point of the Rocky Mountain Range – Mount Elbert in Colorado – is 14,439 feet above sea level while the highest point in Bolivia is 21,463 feet at Nevado Sajama and the highest point in Ecuador is 20,549.4 feet at Chimborazo. Tibet has the tallest mountains out of the group on average with Lhotse measuring 27,940 feet above sea level.

The area that has been a particular hotspot for the U.S. elite is Jackson Hole in Teton County, Wyo., which has been dubbed the richest county in the nation and is a place "where income inequality is the worst in the nation," according to Yale Professor Justin Farrell, who teaches and researches forestry and environmental studies.

Teton County has reported 100 COVID-19 cases and 1 death.

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Regardless of how genes and environment play a possible role in coronavirus infections, five years of research in Teton County has shown Farrell that western America is appealing to the wealthy for a number of reasons.

"The rural West lures many because it seems like a different world. It is wilderness without the snares and moral traps of the city, populated with mythical people — the bohemian ski bum, the dusty cowboy," he wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times. "This romantic facade is especially appealing to the stressed-out superrich because it connects them to nature and bygone small-town character."

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