Data Shows the South’s Communities Face More Risk From COVID-19 Pandemic

A new tool assessing the impact of COVID-19 shows that the South has a greater proportion of at-risk communities than any other region of the country.

The Surgo Foundation’s COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index (CCVI) provides a clear warning for policymakers and philanthropy in the Southeast. The CCVI measures how vulnerable different communities are in their ability to mitigate and respond to the pandemic.

The Surgo Foundation, a nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C., works to integrate behavioral science and artificial intelligence to create precise solutions to social and health problems. The organization has recently devoted all its efforts toward the COVID-19 pandemic and is working to help policymakers understand who is most vulnerable, where the disease is spreading fastest, and the ways in which people are complying with and interpreting social distancing.

The CCVI is based on a composite of both indicators specific to COVID-19 and the CDC’s social vulnerability index (SVI), which measures the expected negative impact of disasters. These indicators are grouped into six themes: socioeconomic status, household composition, minority status, housing and transportation, epidemiological factors, and access to health care. 

As the county-level map of the CCVI shows below, the South has a greater proportion of at-risk communities than any other region. In fact, 71 percent of all high and very high vulnerability communities are concentrated in the South. Not only are eight of the top 10 vulnerable counties situated in the Southeast, but seven of those are located in one state: Mississippi. This analysis echoes similar alarms about the vulnerability of the South that have been raised in recent articles in The Atlantic and in The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. While much of the nation’s attention has been focused on New York and other hot spots, the Southeast region as a whole remains at high risk from the pandemic.

Image source: The Surgo Foundation,

The same trends are apparent at the state level. The top four most vulnerable states (and seven of the 10 most vulnerable) are all in the Southeast. By contrast, there are no Southern states among the top 10 least vulnerable.

 Top 10 States With the Largest Proportion of Vulnerable Counties

 State  % of Counties Vulnerable
 Mississippi  93%
 Louisiana  92%
 Alabama  88%
 Arkansas  88%
 Oklahoma  87%
 New Mexico  84%
 South Carolina  78%
 West Virginia  76%
 Kentucky  73%
 North Carolina  70%

(Proportion of counties within that state that are in the high or very high vulnerability categories. Source:

As we’ve seen, foundations in the Southeast are already responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in numerous ways. Resources like the CCVI will be crucial in making the case for added support from national funders and from state and federal governments in the days and months ahead. 

To explore the CCVI county and state-level data or to learn more about the study’s methodology, visit Read the Surgo Foundation’s in-depth analysis for more details on findings from the CCVI and its implications for the Southeast. 

Stephen Sherman is SECF's director of research and data.


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