Certainly NYC has a very high population density compared to the rest of the country plus we are a transportation hub. Personally, I think the effect of 8.6 million people using public transit is a huge factor. Add to that religious groups that insist on group functions. Books will be written.
The Covid-19 Catastrophe Unfolding in New York Is Unique
The city’s terrible death toll can’t just be explained away by the fact that ‘a lot of people live here’
ByGerard Baker April 24, 2020 1:04 pm ET
It isn’t an exaggeration to state that the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. is, in many ways, a New York public health crisis. This is not in any way to belittle the suffering across the nation, but it is hard to overstate the disproportionate role that the Empire State has played in America’s current woes.
According to the latest estimates by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, by August, 67,000 Americans will have perished from this pandemic. The number of deaths in New York is expected to be over 23,000—more than a third of the national total, in a state with less than 6% of the U.S. population.
New York City currently accounts for perhaps a quarter of U.S. fatalities from Covid-19.
New York City alone—a city of eight million—currently accounts for between 50% and 60% of Covid-19 deaths in the state and for perhaps a quarter of national fatalities. On current trends, the likely final death toll in the city may be above 15,000. (The latest data are fuzzy since New York City is counting thousands of people who died outside hospitals who weren’t diagnosed with Covid-19.)
But even allowing for some margin of error, the numbers amount to one death in New York City for every 500 people. Not—remember—one death for every 500 people with Covid-19 but one death for every 500 residents of the city. Think about that. That might be a handful of parents or grandparents at your average high school, or one or two co-workers on your office floor.
London, with a similar population, has recorded about a third of New York’s death tally.
Not only is this multiples higher than other major population centers in the U.S., it is way more than any comparable city in the world. London, with a similar population, has recorded a little over 4,000 deaths, about a third of New York’s tally.
If New York City didn’t exist, the likely number of total deaths in the U.S. from this virus would be about one for every 7,000 Americans. This would make it about as lethal as the average annual influenza, as critics of the policy response to the crisis have said. In American terms, it can be said that it is New York alone that makes this pandemic…a pandemic.
This might change, and of course the total number of deaths everywhere so far has probably been held down by the social-distancing measures in place across the country. But whichever way you look at it, New York is (miserably) unique.
Population density alone doesn’t account for the scale of the differential between New York’s fatality rates and those of other cities.
There is much hand-wringing by state and city officials and others that all this is some sort of act of God, an unavoidable catastrophe as a result of the particular characteristics of New York, driven mainly by high population density. There is clearly much to this. But it’s unlikely to be the whole explanation. Density alone doesn’t seem to account for the scale of the differential between New York’s fatality rates and those of other cities. New York has twice the density of London but three times the deaths, and the differential is even higher for cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Deaths have occurred disproportionately in poorer areas, where the incidence of long untreated morbidities such as heart disease and diabetes have contributed significantly. But the same is true in all other cities.
The high dependence on mass transit also seems to be a factor. In other major cities, car commutes are much more common.
As Joel Kotkin, a scholar of cities at Chapman University in California, says, it may be the lethal convergence of all three factors. “If you put together density, levels of poverty and reliance on a mass-transit system, you have a hat trick,” he told me.
But even that may not explain the extent of New York’s unique catastrophe. Around the world, the highest death rates have occurred where hospital systems were overwhelmed in the early stages of the crisis. This is especially true in northern Italy. Anecdotally, at least, it seems that the same happened in New York: Large numbers of sick people never got to hospitals, arrived too late or, in the impossible circumstances that medical personnel were confronted with, were given ineffective treatment.
Policy may bear some responsibility too. It’s fair to ask if the city’s mayor and the state’s governor were slower to respond to the spread of the virus than officials elsewhere.
It will be a while before we get a proper understanding of what went so tragically wrong—for New York and, by extension, the U.S. But we will probably have to do better than, “A lot of people live here.”