The Lockdown, Mobility, and Health Disparities in COVID-19 Pandemic in New York City



The world has adopted unprecedented lockdown as the key method to mitigate COVID-19; yet its effect on pandemic outcomes and health disparities remains largely unknown. Adopting a multilevel conceptual framework, this research investigates how city-level lockdown policy and public transit system shape mobility and thus health disparities in New York City. With a spatial method and multiple sources of data including census data and cellphone data, this research demonstrates the uneven impact of the lockdown policy in shaping local pandemic outcomes. Census tracts with people spending more time at home had lower infection and death rates. Mobility to different types of point of interests (POIs) such as grocery stores and retails/recreation reduced significantly, but less so in highly vulnerable tracts. After controlling social vulnerability index, higher grocery store visits lead to higher death rate, while visits to retail/recreation have no impact. Residential profile matters and census tracts with a higher concentration of disadvantaged population, such as Blacks, Hispanics, poor and elderly people, and people with no health insurance, have higher infection and death rates. Spatial analyses identify clusters where the lockdown policy was not effective and census tracts that share similar pandemic characteristics. Through the lens of mobility, this research advances knowledge of health disparities by focusing on institutional causes for health disparities and the role of the government through intervention policy.


Dr. Youqin Huang is a Professor of Geography and Planning and a Research Associate of the Center for Social and Demographic Analysis at University at Albany, State University of New York. She received her B.S. in geography from Peking University in 1992, M.A. and Ph.D. in Geography from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1997 and 2001, respectively.

Her research aims to understand the impact of major socioeconomic transformations and government policies, focusing on housing, migration, and health and wellbeing. Her research has a regional focus on China, and recently the U.S. She is the (co-)author/(co-)editor of ten books/edited volumes, including Chinese Cities in the 21st Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), Confronting the Challenges of Urbanization in China: Insights from Social Science Perspectives (Routledge, 2016), Housing Inequality in Chinese Cities (Routledge 2014), China’s Geography: Globalization and the Dynamics of Political, Economic and Social Change (Roman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006, 2015, 2021), and The Emergence of New Urban China: Insiders’ Perspectives (Lexington Books, 2012). She has also published many papers in leading journals in geography, urban studies, housing, and China, including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), The China Quarterly, Annals of American Association of Geographers, Urban Studies, Cities, Housing Studies, Environment and Planning A, and B. Her research was supported by different agencies, including NIH, NSF and AAAS, and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Since 2001, she has served as a Standing Committee member of Urban China Research Network to promote research on urban China and to foster the next generation of China scholars. She has been a member of Editorial Board for various journals including Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Housing Policy Debate, Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, and China Perspective. She also served as the Chair and Vice Chair of China Geography Specialty Group (CGSG) of Association of American Geographers (AAG) (2005-2007). Currently she is Vice-President of the Research Committee on Housing and Built Environment (RC 43) of International Sociological Association, and a Standing Board member of Research Grants Council of University Grants Committee of Hong Kong. At UAlbany, she has served in many roles at different levels, including Geography Program Director, Executive Director of UAlbany Confucius Institute, and the University Senator. She received “Outstanding Service Award” by the American Association of Geographers (AAG) China Geography Specialty Group (CGSG) in 2019, and the “President’s Award for Exemplary Public Engagement” by University at Albany in 2020.

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