We are only beginning to clarify the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in substantial changes to American neighborhoods. There has been an excess of permanent business closures, particularly among small neighborhood businesses most vulnerable to social distancing, such as local barbershops and nail salons. COVID-19 outbreaks in late September 2021 caused 2,000 neighborhood schools to close for an average of six days in 39 states.
A burgeoning body of research has tried to understand the forces driving these trends, focusing on infectious disease transmission at the individual level or economic models at the business level. What is not considered is the context in which these changes are taking place. By context, we mean the neighborhood community environment that holds the opportunities, restrictions, risks, and flexibility for post-pandemic growth. The community environment includes:
- Job opportunities in business sectors robust to social distancing;
- Comprehensive broadband internet access to facilitate telemedicine, online schooling, remote work, and online grocery shopping;
- Parks and walkable streets to facilitate socially distanced physical activity and social interaction to mitigate social isolation brought on by the pandemic; and
- The provision of medical care through the availability of alternate health care providers and pharmacies.
Access to these neighborhood resources is not equally distributed across America, reinforcing risk for vulnerable populations, including older adults, children and adolescents, racial/ethnic minorities, and those in rural areas. However, a lack of national, standardized, longitudinal metrics of the local neighborhood environment has hindered the ability to identify which communities are most vulnerable to the immediate and longer-term consequences of the pandemic for a host of behavioral, psychological, social, and economic outcomes.
To address this limitation in the nation’s data infrastructure, we will augment, curate and disseminate data from our National Neighborhood Data Archive (NaNDA). This dataset includes a wealth of physical, social and economic characteristics of the local neighborhood across the United States (e.g., racial segregation, business density, environmental hazards, broadband internet access, and healthcare availability), in the years both before and since the pandemic. We will participate with the Consortium on Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research on COVID-19 to integrate, share, and analyze spatially referenced neighborhood data that can be readily linked to existing survey data, cohort studies, or electronic health records at various levels of geography. We will work with the COVID-19 Consortium Coordination Center to identify and create key neighborhood metrics that are priorities for research teams in the Consortium, including a set of common data elements (CDEs) on the social, behavioral and economic indicators of the COVID-19 pandemic at the neighborhood level. We will also develop new metrics of longitudinal neighborhood change in the decades preceding the pandemic, which can inform community risk and resilience since the pandemic.