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Differential patterns by area-level social determinants of health in COVID-19 related mortality and non-COVID-19 mortality: a population-based study of 11.8 million people in Ontario, Canada


Background — Social determinants of health (SDOH) have been associated with COVID-19 outcomes. We examined differential patterns in COVID-19-related mortality by SDOH accounting for confounders and compared these patterns to those for non-COVID-19 mortality.

Methods — Residents of Ontario, Canada aged ≥20 years were followed from March-01-2020 to March-02-2021. COVID-19-related death was defined as death within [-7,30] days of a positive COVID-19 test. Area-level SDOH from 2016 Census included: median household income; proportion with diploma or higher educational-attainment; proportion essential workers, racially-minoritised groups, recent immigrants, apartment buildings, and high-density housing; and average household size. We examined associations between SDOH and COVID-19-related mortality using cause-specific hazard models, treating non-COVID-19 mortality as competing risks, and vice-versa.

Results — Of 11,810,255 individuals, we observed 3,880(0.03%) COVID-19-related deaths and 88,107(0.75%) non-COVID-19 deaths. After accounting for individual-level demographics, baseline health, and other area-level SDOH, the following area-level SDOH were associated with increased hazards of COVID-19-related death (hazard ratios[95% confidence intervals]: lower income (1.30[1.04-1.62]), lower educational-attainment (1.27[1.07-1.52]), higher proportions essential workers (1.28[1.05-1.57]), racially-minoritised groups (1.42[1.08-1.87]), apartment buildings (1.25[1.07-1.46]), and large vs. medium household size (1.30[1.12-1.50]). In comparison, areas with higher proportion racially-minoritised groups were associated with a lower hazard of non-COVID-19 mortality (0.88[0.84-0.92]).

Conclusions — Area-level SDOH are associated with COVID-19-related mortality after accounting for demographic and clinical factors. COVID-19 has reversed patterns of lower non-COVID-19 mortality among racially-minoritised groups vs. their counterparts. Pandemic responses should include strategies (e.g., ‘hotspot’ and risk-group tailored vaccination) to address disproportionate risks and inequitable reach of, and access to, preventive interventions associated with SDOH.



Wang L, Calzavara A, Baral S, Smylie J, Chan  AK, Sander B, Austin PC, Kwong JC, Mishra S. Clin Infect Dis. 2023; 76(6):1110-20. Epub 2022 Oct 28.

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