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Study Finds Texas More Vulnerable Than Other States To Health Effects Of Climate Change

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT News
A COVID-19 vaccination clinic at San Marcos High School in San Marcos, TX on Feb. 25, 2021. A Johns Hopkins researcher says Texans are especially vulnerable to future health crises because of climate change and recommends a state preparedness plan.

From Texas Standard:

A recent study looking into states’ preparedness for health crises due to climate change revealed just how vulnerable Texas is.

Megan Latshaw helped produce the study for Trust for America’s Health, published in December. Latshaw is a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She told Texas Standard that Texas is less prepared and more vulnerable than other states to the health effects of climate change.

Environmental factors make Texans more vulnerable

Texas, on average, has a higher number of severe storms that injure or kill people. Latshaw says researchers also looked at other factors like droughts, floods, wildfires, extreme heat and disease vectors (mosquitoes, for example) that could be amplified because of climate change and pose a threat to Texans’ health.

Social factors also make Texans more vulnerable

Many Texans don’t speak English, she says, which can be a problem during a health emergency if instructions are disseminated in English. Researchers also looked at other social factors like poverty, income inequality, age, ethnicity, disability, types of housing, access to transportation and education to evaluate which ones could be hindrances to Texans’ health as climate change continues.

Five steps for dealing with health effects of climate change

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends five steps to making states less vulnerable to health effects of climate change:

1. Anticipate how climate change will affect the state and identify vulnerabilities.

2. Project what type of diseases could proliferate as a result of a changing climate.

3. See what public health measures could help protect people from those diseases.

4. Develop a climate and health adaptation plan.

5. Evaluate the impacts of the previous steps and seek to improve them.

Texas doesn’t have a plan

“Not only does Texas not have one of these plans, but the U.S. doesn’t even have a climate and health plan,” Latshaw said.

She says she and her colleagues are calling on Congress to develop one. She also says that even if a state isn’t getting CDC funding to develop a plan, it should anyway.

They can still do those five steps and also to bolster their core public health capacity to respond to any hazard, whether it’s climate change or whether it’s COVID,” she said.

Do away with a top-down approach

To prepare states for the health effects of climate change, Latshaw says state leaders need to work with communities, not dictate to them, about prevention or prepararation for a health emergency.

“We encourage them to talk with communities and say, What do you think we should be doing, and what do you think you should be doing and how can we work together?’” she said.

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Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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