The fast spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 has resulted in the emergence of several hot-spots around the world. Several of these are located in areas associated with high levels of air pollution. This study investigates the relationship between exposure to particulate matter and COVID-19 incidence in 355 municipalities in the Netherlands. The results show that atmospheric particulate matter with diameter less than 2.5 is a highly significant predictor of the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related hospital admissions. The estimates suggest that expected COVID-19 cases increase by nearly 100 percent when pollution concentrations increase by 20 percent.
The association between air pollution and case incidence is robust in the presence of data on health-related preconditions, proxies for symptom severity, and demographic control variables. The results are obtained with ground-measurements and satellite-derived measures of atmospheric particulate matter as well as COVID-19 data from alternative dates. The findings call for further investigation into the association between air pollution and SARS-CoV-2 infection risk. If particulate matter plays a significant role in COVID-19 incidence, it has strong implications for the mitigation strategies required to prevent spreading.