Valorie Crooks discusses neighborhood vulnerability to COVID-19

Crooks’ team analyzes socioeconomic and geographic factors to measure effectiveness of community intervention

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PHOTO: Aditya Chinchure / Unsplash

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

Health geographer Dr. Valorie Crooks was featured as the guest speaker for SFU’s February 24 Lunch ‘n’ Learn, which highlights SFU research. Crooks — who leads a team based out of the department of geography at SFU —  spoke about personal and location-based neighborhood vulnerabilities to COVID-19. 

Together with co-investigator Dr. Nadine Schuurman, Crooks’ team works on models “to produce a series of maps that really help to identify specific locations in British Columbia that are at risk of experiencing potentially high rates of COVID-19 infection.” 

“The risk of contracting coronavirus varies between people and places, which makes some British Columbians more likely to develop COVID-19 than others” due to factors such as socioeconomic status, personal behaviours, and community’s population density, their website states.

Crooks’ models are broken down into three categories. 

Personal risks are determined by factors such as living in crowded households, lack of English fluency, working outside the home, and being socioeconomically disadvantaged. 

Place-based risks include community factors of neighborhood’s percentage of farmland, population, density of schools and homeless shelters, and density of tourism destinations. 

The final category — overall vulnerability to risks — combines the first two sets of data to create overall risk data. 

One of the key uses for this data is to compare it with COVID-19 case numbers in communities. If the team finds that very high risk places are seeing low transmission and infection rates, “one of the things [worth] pointing out is that the public health interventions are actually working well,” said Crooks.

Since there is no access to neighborhood case numbers, “people should be using these maps in combination with other information sources,” said Crooks.

She warned, “We do not want people to use this model to attribute blame for transmission to specific people or specific places.”

The project’s website “acknowledge[s] that all models have limitations and can never fully capture all the complexity that surrounds an issue.” 

Much of the information used to create the models and maps comes from the recent Canadian census. “This means that the variables we have included here are limited to ones we can explore with data recorded by Statistics Canada or that is publicly available.”

Moving forward, Crooks’ team will look at “identifying neighborhoods where people are likely to [face health risks] of the pandemic at large, as opposed to being directly [infected] with COVID-19.” She acknowledged there will be numerous COVID-19 health effects associated with lasting economic challenges, social factors, and policy measures — such as “housing insecurity, job insecurity, occupational burn-out, loneliness, [and] isolation.” 

“[When] a call came out from the Michael Smith Research Foundation [ . . . ] a BC based research health funder —  and they put out a call for rapid responses to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Crooks knew she had to step forward.

“I think that [ . . . ] the timing was right to really step forward and show how a geographic framing, and a geographic approach to thinking about the pandemic, can assist with shaping the information that’s available and solutions that we can offer,” said Crooks.

“Once the last case of COVID-19 is no longer active, we’re not done with dealing with the health impacts of this pandemic.”

Valorie Crooks welcomes questions, comments, and feedback from the community and can be reached at valorie_crooks@sfu.ca

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