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Pandemic eviction bans found to protect entire communities from COVID-19: Study

Alison Hill, Ph.D,. Assistant Professor at the Institute for Computational Medicine at Johns Hopkins, joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers and Alexis Christoforous to discuss evictions reducing coronavirus infections.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: A new study finds a ban on evictions during COVID-19 has actually been good for our collective health. Joining us now to discuss the findings is one of the authors of that study, Dr. Alison Hill, assistant professor at the Institute for Computational Medicine at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Hill, good to have you here. I found this report to be pretty fascinating. Can you connect the dots for us and tell us how having this ban on evictions actually lessened infections of COVID-19 throughout our communities?

ALISON HILL: Absolutely. So maybe just a little bit of background context here, the US has been facing an eviction crisis for quite a while now. There's a big problem with affordable housing, especially in cities. And in a typical year, kind of pre-pandemic, around one million households faced eviction. So unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic, this problem has become much worse. So there's been an increase in unemployment, reduction in incomes, and lots of national surveys and economic analyses have suggested that there's now tens of millions of people at risk of eviction.

So in the spring of 2020 last year, a lot of state and local areas enacted sort of patchwork eviction bans. But most of these were set to expire at the end of the summer, which is when the CDC stepped in and instituted this national moratorium. But the problem is these bans are kind of constantly being challenged in courts across the country. And the critical question is, are they really helping control COVID-19? So that's the question that we set out to answer, sort of, why there's a connection there.

The important thing is that we know that a lot of COVID transmission happens within the home. So if someone in your house gets infected, there's a much higher chance that you will catch it than if sort of a random social or work contact of yours happened to get infected. And when people get evicted, the most common things that happens to them is that they tend to double up with friends or family, like moving in together. This leads to larger household sizes, more crowded homes, and that increases the chance of spreading infection.

So what we did is we adopted models that describe the spread of COVID to include this transmission that happens within and outside homes and to simulate these changes in household composition that come along with evictions. And that allowed us to answer this what if question of how many more COVID infections would there have been last year during the fall if these bans hadn't been in place.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, doctor, I'm curious to know if there's any learnings here from this study that can be extended to other areas, perhaps. Or are there other questions that this study raised that you're looking to investigate next?

ALISON HILL: Yeah, absolutely. I think one thing that's really been under addressed during this pandemic is just the role that spread within households contributes to transmission. So many of the interventions that we put in place with social distancing and work from home and sort of closures of school and businesses have focused on this transmission that can happen from someone who lives in one home to someone else who lives in another home, you know, in another part of the city.

But a lot of transmission happens within the home and sort of giving people more tools to be able to prevent that is really something that has been underlooked. So we are interested in investigating that problem more to understand what puts people more at risk and how they can help mitigate that.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Well, one of the findings that you can trace a lot of the infections to back in the home, did you look at all through your studies?

ALISON HILL: Yeah, so a lot of other studies, so epidemiological investigations that have been done by the CDC and colleagues of ours at Johns Hopkins have worked out at least some estimates for what is the risk of transmission from one household member to the other. And that was really useful because we could use those in our models to then consider this hypothetical situation if the evictions had been allowed to occur and the sort of the normal process of that leading to more people living in households together when people get evicted and have to double up. So those estimates allowed us to use this model to say what would have happened if evictions occurred.

And we were pretty shocked by the magnitude of this attack. So, for example, for the city of Philadelphia, one of the cities that we looked at, even if evictions had been occurring just at their pre-pandemic rates, we would expect around 5,000 extra COVID cases if evictions had been allowed to occur, compared to the real scenario where they had been banned. But if evictions actually occurred at a higher rate, so for example, a fivefold higher rate, that's an estimate from some analyses, then in that case, we estimated there could be up to 50,000 extra cases due to the extra transmission that would have occurred if we allowed evictions to happen.

And the important thing about this is our study found that it wasn't just the people who experienced the evictions that were at this increased risk of getting infected. So we actually found that it was people all throughout the city, not just people in particular neighborhoods, where a lot of evictions occurred, but because for an infectious disease, you know, we're all connected. Infections can spread sort of to anyone. So it was really causing an increased risk for everyone in the city. So this suggests that having these eviction bans in place really did help prevent infections for all of us.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, we're going have to leave it there, but really some great insights with this study. Dr. Alison Hill of Johns Hopkins University, thanks so much.