Place Visitation Data Reveals the Geographic and Racial Disparities of COVID-19 Impact on HIV Service Utilization in the Deep South

Zhenlong Li, Shan Qiao, Huan Ning, Xiaowen Sun, Jiajia Zhang, Bankole Olatosi, Xiaoming Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented pressure to health care systems, and interrupted health care delivery and access including HIV care in the United States’ Deep South, which endures a double epidemic of HIV and COVID-19. Ryan White programs cover HIV care services for over half of PLWH in the Deep South. Given the important role of Ryan White programs, examining the visitation changes to Ryan White facilities during the pandemic offers insights into the impact of the pandemic on HIV healthcare utilization. Objectives: Analyze the geographic distribution of HIV facility visitors at the county level before and during the pandemic in the nine US states of Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas) to reveal the geographic and racial disparity in visitation disruption caused by the pandemic. Methods: We first extracted mobile device-based visitation data for Ryan White HIV facilities in the Deep South during 2019 and 2020. To quantify the disruption in visitations during 2020, we calculated the visitation reduction rate (VRR) for each county, using 2019 data as the baseline. Next, we conducted a spatial analysis of the VRR values to uncover geographical disparities in visitation interruptions. To investigate racial disparities, we performed spatial regression analyses with VRR as the dependent variable, and the percentages of Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations as the independent variables. In this analysis, we controlled for potential confounders. Results: Geographic disparities in visitation reduction were observed, with all nine Deep South states experiencing significant drops. Georgia experienced the highest visitation loss (VRR = -0.58), followed by Texas (-0.47), Alabama (0.47), and Tennessee (-0.46), while South Carolina had the smallest reductions (-0.11). All the regression models consistently revealed racial disparities in visitation interruption. That is, counties with a higher proportion of Black population tended to have higher RW facility visitation reductions. Conclusions: Our analysis revealed distinct geographic disparities in visitation interruptions at Ryan White HIV facilities in the Deep South during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Furthermore, we found that the Black/African American population experienced a greater disruption at the county level in the Deep South during this period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAIDS and Behavior
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases

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