Studies show a compelling link between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality. A recently published study in Harvard shows that coronavirus patients from areas with poor air quality are more likely to develop severe COVID-19 than patients who don’t.

According to Dr. Kimberly Terrell of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, a small increase in long-term exposure to air pollutant PM 2.5 leads to a large increase in COVID-10 mortality. “Your lungs are ground zero for this particular coronavirus,” she said. “So it stands to reason that anything which compromises your lungs would adversely affect your ability to resist an invading virus which targets your airways,” she added.

The Harvard study also shows that even a slight increase in long-term exposure to pollution can have serious coronavirus-related consequences. Terrell noted that a person living in a region with high levels of fine particulate matter due to population density and smoking is 15 percent more likely to die from COVID-19 than someone with just one unit less of fine particulate pollution.

While the study has not yet been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO), it plays a crucial role in helping people understand and combat the spread of the pandemic. “We don’t have the evidence linking directly to mortality yet, but we know if you are exposed to air pollution you are increasing your chances of being more severely affected,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO’s director of public health.

“We are starting to give messages to countries and regions saying, if you are starting to have cases, in those cities where you have a high level of pollution, reinforce your level of preparedness, because you might have a higher mortality,” she added.

Studies linking air pollution to the severity of coronavirus-related diseases are reinforced by a 2003 UCLA study, which found that SARS patients from extremely polluted areas of China were twice as likely to die from the disease. According to the WHO, these studies suggest that COVID-19 response should be boosted in places with poor air quality.

COVID-19 COVID-19 around the world. Photo by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay