Study, Index show southeast CO has greater

Residents of Southeast Colorado Springs may have a harder time adhering to social distancing and stay-at-home orders than elsewhere in the city or El Paso County.

That was the finding of the Colorado Health Institute and its newly released Social Distancing Index. The Denver-based nonprofit research and advocacy organization crunched numbers related to population density, overcrowded housing and essential labor in each of the state’s census tracts.

What it found is that six tracts located south of East Platte Avenue, north of South Academy Boulevard, east of Union Avenue and west of Powers Boulevard had the highest overall index score in the area. But Joe Hanel, communications director for the institute, emphasized that the score does not necessarily equate to increased risk of contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus or the sometimes-fatal illness it causes, COVID-19.

“It’s where a higher percentage of the population has a hard time meeting the social distancing guidelines,” Hanel said. “That’s either because they have to go to work, or their neighborhoods are dense or the houses they live in are crowded.

“That ties pretty closely to income,” he continued. “If you have a lower income, you’re going to need to double up housing, get a roommate, have more members of your own family [in the same property] or double up with another family.”

The study grew from work the Colorado Health Institute was doing for a governor’s task force, in response to the coronavirus. Analysts looked at the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Estimates for 2014-2018 to get “apple-to-apple-to-apple comparisons of every census tract in the state” of the influences that most impact social distancing, Hanel said.

“Your city, the El Paso County public health department, could use this, then, to maybe figure out some neighborhoods that need more attention because people are more prone to run into others who have the virus, just because there’s nothing they can do to change that,” he said. “It’s not easy to change your house, it’s certainly not easy to change your neighborhood density and it’s not easy to change your job, especially now.”

On a state-wide level, the highest index scores were found on the edges of Denver county and on the Eastern Plains. The higher the score, the greater the challenges. Here are some of the findings closer to home:

  • Between 50 and 75 percent of Southeast Colorado Springs residents are employed in industries considered essential, including agriculture, construction, manufacturing, wholesale and retail sales, transportation, waste management, health care and social assistance, food services and other services like child care and banking. This statistic was consistent with much of the greater Pikes Peak region.
  • Southeast Colorado Springs leads the region for the number of residents living in overcrowded housing (that is, residences with a population density of more than one person per room). Between 12 and 25 percent of the area’s residents meet that level.
  • Much of Southeast Springs  — essentially the entirety of the area south of Airport Road to the city’s southern boundary, and a portion between Airport and Platte Avenue and from South Academy Boulevard east to South Murray Boulevard — is considered the highest population density, with between 13,000 and 36,111 people per square mile.

“For me, the takeaway is that just because somebody isn’t doing social distancing doesn’t mean they don’t want to,” Hanel said. “In some cases, in a lot of cases, it’s because they aren’t able to. There’s some built-infrastructures that make it more difficult for people in some neighborhoods and towns to follow public health guidelines.”

To view the index or to learn more about the Institute’s study, visit



Founding Editor and General Manager Regan Foster holds dual bachelor's degrees in journalism and Spanish and a master's degree in journalism with specialization in political reporting and media management.