A new census study reveals how poorly prepared American homes were when the coronavirus forced us inside.

Before 2020, “quarantine suitability” wasn’t exactly high on the list of what people looked for in a new home. Now, as the coronavirus pandemic pushes deeper into its second year, a report by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that millions of multiperson American households were unequipped from the start to effectively quarantine a household member infected with Covid-19,

Pandemic guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend practices we’ve become familiar with, like maintaining a six-foot distance from others and limiting social contacts. Inside homes, the C.D.C. advises that features such as in-unit laundry and adequate kitchens are desirable to limit outside interactions. If a household member does become infected, isolation in a separate room and the use of a separate bathroom are among the primary recommendations for successful quarantine.

But the Census Bureau reported this month that 38 percent of multiperson households in the U.S., about 34 million in all, were found to lack enough bedrooms or bathrooms to meet those guidelines. In two- and three-person households, two bedrooms were considered enough to allow a sick member to isolate in one of them. Homes were considered deficient if three members would need to share a room.

Among the 15 largest U.S. metro areas, expensive ones like New York, Boston and Los Angeles — where more roommates were likely to be sharing apartments with fewer rooms — had the highest percentage of households that were unable to meet the guidelines. Not surprisingly, the study also found that the poorer the household, the more likely its home fell short of the minimum bedrooms and bathrooms.

Among racial groups, multiperson American Indian and Alaskan Native households had the highest share of unequipped homes, followed by Pacific Islander, all-Black, mixed race, all-white, and Asian households.

New York City’s predominantly older housing stock, typically built with a single bathroom, played a role in the area’s ranking as the least equipped in the U.S. This week’s chart shows how the 15 largest U.S. metro areas ranked according to failure to meet


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