How Easily Can You Shelter in Place?

We investigate how the eases and burdens of sheltering in place are distributed across the Charlottesville region

Emphasizing the structures that make social distancing and staying at home easier or more challenging, we created a score based on population density; crowded housing conditions; access to private transportation, broadband, and food; and the presence of children in the absence of school or daycare.

We've struggled with framing the structural factors that impact the experience of sheltering in place around the ease experienced by some communities or around the burden experienced by others. Here, we capture a composite score that highlights the challenges - high scores reflect greater burdens - while recognizing that these are two sides of the same coin, the relative ease experienced by many in our region comes at the expense of neighbors.

To better contextualize the neighborhoods described, we provide various dimensions of the social determinants of health for each tract. Social determinants are external factors that affect our well-being - whether we have access to economic opportunities and quality schooling, resources in our communities and support structures in our homes and neighborhoods, safe workplaces and clean water. Many communities in the U.S. are marked by structural racism, so these conditions are distributed unequally across neighborhoods and, in turn, contribute to racial disparities in health and well-being. The Charlottesville region was built upon a patchwork of former plantations, racial covenants served as the policy mechanism to reassert those inequities into the post-emancipation landscape, and the area remains one of the hardest places in the country to build wealth as a person of color. In a pandemic, the ways in which these inequities continue to harm our entire community become strikingly clear.

Social Determinants of Health

Click on the Map for Your Tract's Details


For an in-depth look at how social determinants of health shape our local communities, see Jordy Yager's and Sarad Davenport's series, "Determined: Stories of resilience in a broken ecosystem"

Read about our methods using the link above. If you're interested in the details, all of the code is available on our GitHub!

Michele Claibourn and Sam Powers. 2020. "How Easily Can You Shelter in Place?." UVA Democracy Initiative Center for the Redress of Inequity through Community-Engaged Scholarship.

The mission of the UVA Democracy Initiative Center for the Redress of Inequity through Community-Engaged Scholarship is to tangibly redress racial and economic inequity in university communities by advancing a transformative approach to the fundamental research mission, which will, in turn, reform institutional values, pedagogy, and operations. For more on our other action-oriented projects, click here.


The ability to shelter in place safely and comfortably, to practice social distancing effectively and freely, varies across space, mirroring pre-existing structural inequalities. To capture these variations, we identified a set of indicators representing access to space and resources and defining environments and constraints faced by residents. These include:

Indicators are measured at the Census tract level, an area approximately the size of a neighborhood and containing between 2,000 and 8,000 people. Census tracts, however, still obscure important variation in the lived experiences of residents within these spaces.

Additional Neighborhood Characteristics

In addition to indicators for the burden of sheltering in place, we provide characteristics of each tract that shape the determinants of health.


To summarize the potentially compounding challenges generated by dense spaces, overcrowded homes, lack of access to a car, to broadband, to markets, and the presence of children while working or sheltering at home, we summarize these indicators into a composite score or index.

For the census tracts within our region, each measure is normalized to range between 0 and 1, with 1 representing the highest presence of burden -- the greatest density, the highest percent of household that are overcrowded, have no broadband subscription, no car, no nearby supermarket, and the highest percent of families with young children -- and 0 representing the least burden. These normalized scores for each measure are added together to create the index, which can range from 0 to 6.


Small-area population estimates are from the American Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year Estimates. Sent to approximately 3.5 million addresses per year, the 5-year survey estimates provide up-to-date estimates for localities that may be changing between censuses. As these are estimates derived from surveys, and not a full census, they are subject to variability due to sampling error. ACS measures and table sources:

All indicators, except low food access and life expectancy, are taken directly from the 2014-2018 ACS.