NEW YORK, USA — New York is being hit the hardest with the coronavirus outbreak with having more cases than any other country and accounts for nearly half of all the cases in the United States. The question is: why was this the case?
Vulnerability of New York
As of May 11, 2020, there have been more than 340,657 cases of COVID-19 infection in New York, including more than 189,656 in New York City. The coronavirus death toll has risen to 26,656, including people suspected, but not confirmed, to have the virus.
New York City, America’s financial capital, has 8.6 million inhabitants. There are 10,000 people per square kilometer, making it the densest city in the US.
Social distancing in such a populated area can be difficult. Millions of commuters come in contact with each other on its packed subway systems every day.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly stated that the density and number of foreign visitors made New York City extremely vulnerable to the infectious disease. NYC is the ideal entry point for many travellers to America, and it receives more than 60 million tourists a year. This means that anyone infected with the coronavirus disease is likely to start infecting there first.
Overcrowded, deprived areas — characterizing the massive socioeconomic inequality in NYC — have experienced the highest rate of infections, particularly in the Bronx and Queens, where many people already suffer health problems and lack medical care.
“New York City had all the preconditions that would support the idea that it was going to be hit very hard,” said Irwin Redlener, public health professor and expert in disaster preparedness at Columbia University.
Reaction to Risk
American geneticists estimate that it started spreading in New York City from Europe in February, before its first confirmed case on March 1. Around this time, Cuomo expressed his confidence in the health care system.
The closure of public schools, bars and restaurants was announced by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio from March 16. A week later on March 22, the governor announced all non-essential businesses to close and ordered all residents to stay at home.
“The mayor and the governor were being pushed and pulled by two opposing forces.” experts claim. “One was saying we have to close schools and restaurants as quickly as possible, the other saying there were lots of economic and social consequences of shutting down everything early. Everyone was getting mixed messages, including from the federal government.”
California, America’s most populous state, is often cited as a good example for the speed of its response to the outbreak. Its confirmed cases as of May 11 is 66,680 — more than three times less in New York City alone.
“One thing that I think is significant is that six neighboring counties got together and issued the same (confinement) order for all six counties, and they did it early,” said Meghan McGinty, associate at school of public health of Johns Hopkins University.
“There was consistency, as opposed to NYC taking one measure, and Westchester (county) taking another, and Long Island taking another,” she told AFP.
Six days passed between New York’s school closure order and its order confining residents to their homes.
“In epidemic terms, six days is light years and can really make a difference in the control and spread of the epidemic, so I think it is possible to say that perhaps, in retrospect, New York waited too long,” said McGinty.
The Blame Game
When the crisis passes, the blame game may begin.
Democrats Cuomo and de Blasio deplored for weeks the Trump administration’s delay in getting tests to states, which to this day are still not arriving in sufficient numbers.
The New York officials also targeted the federal government for dragging its heels in implementing emergency powers to manufacture lifesaving ventilators.
With the toll far exceeding the numbers killed on 9/11, Phil Murphy, the governor of neighboring New Jersey, which has also been badly affected, has called for a commission similar to the one set up to investigate the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“The warning signs were there… what happened? If you don’t know the answer, how are you going to make sure it’s not going to happen again?” Cuomo asked Friday.
Given the number of dead and millions of unemployed, “we have a moral obligation to study this pandemic,” concluded McGinty.
One thing for sure from this pandemic is that we know very little about the virus. Our experts are doing their best in researching and finding a cure, our governments are protecting the people and peace to their capacity.
What we can do as citizens is simple: Clean your surroundings. Wash your hands regularly. Stay at home. Stay safe.