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TCNJ’s Social Epidemiology Lab unearths important COVID link

Carolina Borges sitting at her desk
Carolina Borges, associate professor of public health and the founder of the Social Epidemiology Lab | Photo: Bill Cardoni for TCNJ Magazine

As the nation enters its third year of the pandemic, students and faculty at the Social Epidemiology Lab in the School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science at The College of New Jersey have discovered a compelling connection between pandemic mortality and social capital across the nation.

Social capital is a set of shared values and networks of relationships that enable communities to function effectively. Examples include community engagement and family and social support.  

“The most important message is that where and how people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes,” Carolina Borges, associate professor of public health and the founder of the Social Epidemiology Lab, said of the team’s ecologic cross-sectional study.  

The research group identified that nearly 60% of the variance in mortality rates across the United States were explained by social capital and vulnerability, a condition of disadvantage, underprivileged risks associated with poverty, unemployment, crime, and other similar circumstances. 

“States with lower levels of social capital, including community support that may act as resources for people and facilitate collective action, tend to fare worse in terms of COVID-19 mortality,” Borges says.

The study looked at data from January 2020 to February 2021. Information about vaccines and vaccine hesitancy were not factored into the data because they were not readily available during this period.

The results of the study, which were submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, could be used as a roadmap for government to invest in crucial resources for vulnerable populations and communities.

“Administrators should continue to focus their attention on actions that decrease social gaps among populations with equitable policies, including improving housing, education, and access to health,” Borges says. “Social capital requires conscious investment.”