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HARC Research Analyzing Impact of COVID-19 Through Data

How has our region’s environment responded to societal changes brought on by a global pandemic?

With the novel coronavirus pandemic, regulatory measures have been enacted by local governments throughout the Greater Houston region and across the state of Texas. In addition to slowing the rate of infection, reducing the burden on medical facilities, and saving lives, these stay-at-home orders also have far-reaching effects on infrastructure systems, communities, and the environment. As Texas re-opens businesses, the region will again see changes as residents attempt to achieve some semblance of normal life in the face of the ongoing pandemic.

Scientific understanding of the virus is evolving as is the understanding of the pandemic’s short-term effects on quality of life, economic systems, infrastructure, and the environment. Lessons learned can also inform planning and adaptation efforts for future public health crises and extreme events such as natural disasters. Researchers at HARC (the Houston Advanced Research Center) are analyzing data describing regional mobility, air quality, and energy demand to determine the extent of regional and statewide changes due to COVID-19 and the resulting stay-at-home orders.

Energy Analysis
During the month of March, 2020, energy consumption varied across our region. Using electric power consumption data from CenterPoint, researchers observed where electricity flowed; which zip codes used more, and which zip codes used less. The electric power consumption data from CenterPoint provides some good insight as to where electricity flowed in March 2020. The data provided allowed a comparison between March 2019 and March 2020.

General conclusions that may be drawn from this analysis could be:
• Workers left the major commercial centers, such as Downtown, the Energy Corridor, Greenway Plaza and The Galleria, to work in their suburban homes.
• The Texas Medical Center largely ceased most non-essential operations and academic activities in preparation of COVID-19 cases.
• The heavy industry sector shut down for a good portion of the month of March. This is particularly the case in far east Houston and the Ship Channel. The change in feedstock flows into the Ship Channel and surrounding refineries as indicated by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency point to this conclusion, as well. (Gulf Coast (PADD 3) Weekly Supply)

Mobility Analysis
As the COVID-19 outbreak began to unfold in the Greater Houston region and across the state of Texas in March 2020, stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures kept many people at home. HARC’s mobility analyses determine the extent to which residents of the Houston-Galveston region reduced average daily travel during this time. The change in average distance was calculated to establish relationships between the implementation of social distancing measures and the public response.

Mobility Fact Sheet

Air Quality
The COVID-19 pandemic began to affect air quality in March 2020 with region-wide shelter-in-place orders reducing the amount of vehicular traffic. HARC researchers analyzed various pollutants including, ground-level ozone, PM2.5, NOx and BTEX compounds. HARC’s analysis tracks levels of pollutants and compares air quality changes in the Greater Houston region to other metropolitan areas in Texas and across the United States.

Fact Sheet Graphics

(Click to see the full-size chart)

Ozone Fact Sheet
NOx Fact Sheet
BTEX Fact Sheet

Project Announcements

Press Releases

HARC announces research analysis to study effects of COVID-19, associated stay-at-home orders, and the subsequent effects on air quality.

Primary Researcher