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'These Are Deaths That Could Have Been Prevented,' Says Researcher Studying Evictions

Like much of the response to the coronavirus across the United States, the approach to housing during the pandemic has been an uneven patchwork.

Forty-three states and Washington, D.C., put in eviction moratoriums starting in March and April, but 27 of them ended in the spring and summer. Then in September, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionordered a national stop to evictions.

The CDC eviction ban isn't automatic and doesn't cover everyone. Thousands of people are still beingkicked out of their homes.

Still, the federal order has been protecting many — and it is set to expire at the end of December.

Now, a newly published study makes the case that evictions are tied to an increase in coronavirus cases and deaths. The research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, compared numbers in the 27 states where state-level moratoriums ended with the 17 that have kept them in place.

After controlling for factors such as stay-at-home orders, school closures and mask mandates, the researchers estimated that the lifting of moratoriums could have resulted in between 365,200 and 502,200 excess coronavirus cases and between 8,900 and 12,500 excess deaths — an average of 433,700 cases and 10,700 deaths.

"I think whenever you see numbers like 430,000 cases, 10,000 deaths, it's surprising and it's troubling, and these are deaths that could have been prevented had the states maintained their moratoriums," says one of the study's lead researchers, Kathryn Leifheit of UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health.

It's worth noting that the study doesn't count actual eviction numbers, local moratoriums and rent relief in its calculations. Other variables could have influenced the uptick of coronavirus cases and deaths.

In excerpts from her interview on All Things Considered, Leifheit discusses the study and why it was important to share the research as soon as possible.

Is what is happening here that if someone gets evicted, they might move in with family or friends and then the number of people that they're in contact with and exposed to is growing?

Yep, it's as intuitive as that, it's difficult to socially distance and shelter in place if you don't have a shelter.

Did you find data where the situations varied in interesting ways from state to state?

So the biggest driver of cases and deaths are the [size of the] state's population, obviously, and also when they lifted the moratorium. So lifting the moratorium earlier was associated with more cases and deaths. So Texas really stands out as a state with a lot of cases and deaths associated with lifting their moratorium. I believe it's in the neighborhood of 150,000 cases and 4,500 deaths that could have been prevented by maintaining their moratorium.

Did your research look at whether different groups of people might be affected differently if this ban expires?

We weren't able to look directly at that, but we know that Black and Latinx families are more likely to be evicted. We also know that these are the same communities that are bearing the brunt of COVID. So moratoriums can help these families remain housed and stay safe during the pandemic. And they might also keep COVID disparities from growing larger.

Your study has not been peer reviewed yet. You're getting it out early because it's urgent. This is time-sensitive information. What are you hoping the impact will be?

The CDC moratorium is set to expire at the end of the year. That's four weeks away and it's in the setting of over a million new COVID cases a week. So state and federal policymakers need to extend these protections to make sure that families and their communities can stay safe. Individuals have a bit of a role in this, too. Tenants can understand their protections under the CDC moratorium, help their neighbors understand theirs, and then reach out for legal aid.

You're looking at the numbers, but every one of these numbers is a real person. How did you think about that as you worked on this and wrote up your research?

I did my Ph.D. in Baltimore and every day was in contact with people that were living in deep poverty and struggling to make rent. So I think about those faces and those people, and it really is a human tragedy and not just numbers.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Maureen Pao is an editor, producer and reporter on NPR's Digital News team. In her current role, she is lead digital editor and producer for All Things Considered. Her primary responsibility is coordinating, producing and editing high-impact online components for complex, multipart show projects and host field reporting.