Cell-phone data from the spring of 2020 shows that poorer people moved around more, and spent more time in public places, early in the pandemic, making them more likely to catch and spread COVID-19. To stop the pandemic, we must make it possible for poor people to stay home, like rich people do.
People with lower incomes can’t stay home because they need to go to their jobs, which cannot be performed remotely. When they go out to get what they need – for groceries, for example – the places they go are more crowded, allowing the disease to spread. If we want to control the disease, we need to help the poor.
Finding ways to help people stay home could help erase differences in people’s movements based on their income. In the Chicago metro area, overall visits to public places plummeted 54% in March, but in April people living in the lower-income neighborhoods were 27% more likely to travel to public places than people from higher-income neighborhoods. The authors said the gap probably reflects frontline workers holding jobs that could not be performed remotely.
Beyond capping occupancy at grocery stores, the scientists urge policymakers to open emergency food distribution centers. They also advocated for free, widely available testing in high-risk neighborhoods. To improve the lives of people who can’t work from home, they recommend better paid leave policy or income support so people can stay home when they are sick.
These humane and fundamental measures are unlikely to occur in the U.S. The government’s policy is not to take care of people, but rather to keep them on the edge of survival so they’re easier to control. The pandemic has revealed the hazards of this brutal and commonplace injustice.