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COVAIR-CAT Will Assess Possible Links between Air Pollution and COVID-19 in Catalonia

This two-year project is coordinated by ISGlobal and funded by the Health Effects Institute (HEI)

Photo: Benjamin Gremler / Unsplash

There is a growing body of literature linking air pollution to communicable diseases, including a suite of respiratory infections. To test whether the levels of air pollution where someone lives are related to their chances of having severe COVID-19 is the main goal of COVAIR-CAT , a new project coordinated by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the ”la Caixa” Foundation. This project is funded by the Health Effects Institute (HEI) and will use data infrastructure from the Generalitat de Catalunya.

COVAIR-CAT held its kick off meeting on May 7th , starting a period of two years in which the researchers will study possible links of short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution with COVID-19 hospital admissions and mortality . The project will also include an equity perspective, since one of its goals is to find out whether air pollution affects COVID-19 severity more for some people depending on socioeconomic and demographic factors. Inequalities in severe COVID-19 outcomes have been documented in several countries. COVAIR-CAT will investigate the interplay between air pollution, socioeconomic, demographic, and other factors in COVID-19 inequalities in Catalonia. Lastly, it will test whether COVID-19 is unique by testing whether the effect of air pollution on COVID-19 severity is different from the effect on other respiratory infections like pneumonia.

“There are very good reasons to expect air pollution is relevant in the COVID-19 pandemic. Some toxicological and epidemiological studies provide evidence supporting the idea that poor air quality may increase the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection or the risk of suffering a more severe form of the disease. However, most of the epidemiological studies to date have an ecological design, which is an important limitation”, says Cathryn Tonne, ISGlobal researcher and director of the study. To overcome this methodological challenge, COVAIR-CAT will assess possible links between COVID-19 and air quality using data on nearly all individuals living in Catalonia.

COVAIR-CAT’s study cohort will include data from primary care, hospital admissions, mortality, and COVID-19 testing . “Such an ambitious study design is only possible with good infrastructure for data linkage and in settings where most people are covered through a universally-accessible health system. One of our project’s main strengths is access to anonymized administrative data from the Generalitat de Catalunya thanks to the Program for Data Analysis for Health Research and Innovation (PADRIS) and close collaboration with the PADRIS team”, explains Cathryn Tonne.

COVAIR-CAT aims to generate new, practical knowledge related to the intersection of two major public health challenges: air pollution and COVID-19.