Theses and Dissertations



Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Sherman-Morris, Kathleen

Committee Member

Ambinakudige, Shrinidhi

Committee Member

Meng, Qingmin

Committee Member

Seitz, Holli

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Geosciences


The 21st century experienced several health crises, especially in the form of infectious disease outbreaks such as the SARS outbreak in 2003, the H1N1 in 2009, and Ebola outbreaks in 2013. However, none has produced a worldwide socio-economic and health impact compared to the recent pandemic, known as COVID-19. As of October 4, 2022, more than 614 million cases with 6 million deaths have been reported worldwide. The United States is currently in the leading position with more than 98 million cases and 1 million deaths. The pandemic, however, did not impact the entire region similarly, and the infections and intensity varied with geographical and socio-economic characteristics. In this project, I used a multi-method approach to analyze the relationship between health disparities and COVID-19-related health outcomes in the USA and examine the influence of health disparities reporting on newspaper coverage of COVID-19. This assessment was performed in three ways. First, I have explored the relationship between Mississippi’s county-level COVID-19-related cases and deaths with the Center for Disease Control and Preventions’s Social Vulnerability Index (CDC SVI). Second, I have investigated the spatial pattern of COVID-19 in the USA and its associations with Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) by utilizing the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHRR) dataset.Finally, I analyzed how news media reporting of key health determinants (i.e., age, race, income and gender) is framed, including the role of different stakeholders in the context of COVID-19. Findings revealed a statistical relationship between CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) and Mississippi’s county-level COVID-19 cases and deaths. I also found that COVID-19 infections showed considerable spatial heterogeneity as the distribution of COVID-19 cases and deaths varies across the US counties and among the three largest waves. The multiple regression results also exhibited a temporal association between social determinants of health (SDH) indicators and COVID-19-related health outcomes across the USA. Finally, I found that the NYT coverage of COVID-19 dealt more with human interest, responsibility, and conflict than economic and morality frames. The findings revealed the vital role social determinants of health play during a health crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Available for download on Friday, December 15, 2023