Five Takeaways from NYC’s COVID-19 Data

People wear protective face masks as they wait in line to receive free food at a curbside pantry in Brooklyn during the COVID-19 outbreak. / Photo by Mike Segar for REUTERS

People wear protective face masks as they wait in line to receive free food at a curbside pantry in Brooklyn during the COVID-19 outbreak. / Photo by Mike Segar for REUTERS

By Caroline Chen and TuAnh Dam

New York City had its first COVID-19 case on March 1, and in less than two months, the number of confirmed cases has spiked to more than 160,000. And nearly 12,000 New Yorkers have died. Behind these numbers are sad stories of people struggling in an overwhelmed healthcare system. The statistics also provide an important lesson that the pandemic is, and is not, an equalizer.

Here are some key findings of NYC’s COVID-19 data.

1. The Epicenter

New York City, with 160,489 confirmed cases, is the hardest hit city in New York State and in the country. As of April 26 midnight, about 55 percent of New York State’s total cases (291,996) are in the Big Apple. As such, New York City, the most crowded city in the United States, has become the national and global epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. According to the NYC Department of City Planning, New York, with an estimated population of 8,398,748 as of July, 2018, has the highest population density of any major city in the country. It accounts for around 43 percent of the state’s population; and contains 28,491 people per square mile as of 2017. NYC’s COVID-19 data on the spread of the virus have shed light on one of the biggest enemies in the coronavirus fight: population and density in large cities.

Note: There are disparities in the number of total cases in New York City, released by the city and the state due to the time required by the city to confirm that a death was due to COVID-19. For consistency, New York state’s data are used here for both New York City’s total cases and for the statewide total. 

2. The Socioeconomic Gap Behind the Coronavirus Infection

While the virus does not discriminate who it can infect, demographics have played a role on how it has spread. In fact, some neighborhoods in New York City have been hit harder than others.  The reasons are not entirely clear, but the data of infections, per zip code, seems to show that neighborhoods with more lower income households had more cases than those with wealthier ones.

Manhattan, the most densely populated borough in the city, has the lowest rate in all three statistical categories—cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. And this reflects a potential connection between health and wealth.  Manhattan is the wealthiest neighborhood in New York City–according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it has a median household income of $82,459, while the city average is $60,762.

In comparison, the Bronx has a median household income of only $38,085, Brooklyn $56,015, and Queens $64,987. Manhattan even has a per capita income ($72,832) that’s about 1.93 times of the city average. The Bronx also has the highest rate of infection (2,357 per 100,000 people), hospitalization (617 per 100,000 people) and death (168 per 100,000 people).

Queens has the largest number of confirmed cases, the most cases of hospitalization and cases of death so far, followed by Brooklyn and the Bronx. Staten Island has the smallest number in each of those categories, but has the second highest infection rate (about 1 in 44 people) in all boroughs. .

Take a look at this map to see which neighborhoods in the city have had the highest positive rate (by zip code).

Another possible explanation for why Manhattan has fewer cases than other boroughs:  Manhattanites are better educated than residents in other boroughs; 60.8 percent of the people above 25 years old in Manhattan have a bachelor’s degree or higher, while the city average is only 37.4 percent. And for the Bronx, the hardest hit borough in terms of cases per 100,000,  only 19.8 percent of residents have a college degree.

Some speculate that another reason the Manhattan numbers are low is that many Manhattanites have fled the city to weekend homes upstate or on the beach. This is not reflected in the numbers, however. 

3. Black and Latino People Are Hit Harder 

New York City’s racial disparities in deaths from COVID-19 also point to the socioeconomic gap exposed by this virus. African Americans and Latinos are about twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than whites, and more than twice as likely to die than Asians. According to the preliminary data from the NYC Department of Health, for every 100,000 African Americans infected, 127 will die. For every 100,000 Latinos infected, 114 will die. In comparison, about 64 in every 100,000 whites infected will die, while the same figure for Asians is around 52. 

This is possibly a reflection of inequalities that are rooted in our healthcare system. New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated that apart from chronic health problems, such as asthma, high blood pressure, and diabetes, that people in these communities face, poverty is also playing a role. “It always seems that the poorest people pay the highest price,” said Gov. Cuomo. Poorer people have access to fewer healthcare resources, live in more dense communities, and don’t have the option to stop working. Besides, many of the frontline workers, who are at higher risk now, are African Americans and Latinos. 

4. Age is, and is not, a factor
When coronavirus first started spreading through China, popular belief was that only the elderly were vulnerable. Young, able-bodied adults would be ok as long as they practiced good hygiene.

But New York City’s own data shows that coronavirus strikes every age group. As of April 26, 35 percent of the almost 40,000 hospitalized patients are between the ages of 45 to 64. Most of the infections also hit New Yorkers who weren’t elderly. Of the 153,000 total cases, 112,000 are New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 64 – 56,000 between ages 18 and 44, and 56,000 between 45 and 64 .

But age is a factor in fatal cases, the numbers show. So far, 5,500 patients that were 75 years and older have died, comprising the majority of deaths from COVID-19 in the city. However, not only the oldest residents who have been infected, have died. The statistics also indicate that 5,300 deaths occurred among patients that were 45 to 74 years old. Deaths drop off significantly the younger the patients are. In the 18 to 44 age group, there have only been 472 deaths—just four percent of the 11,400 total number of New Yorkers who have died.

The youngest New Yorkers, those under 17 years of age, have also been infected and hospitalized with coronavirus with 3,300 and 262 cases respectively. But their deaths have been minimal – just five in this age group have died and all of them had pre-existing medical conditions.

5. The Gender Gap
Across the board, coronavirus has disproportionately affected more men than women. More men have been infected, hospitalized, and have died not just in the United States, but in China, South Korea, and Italy as well.

During a March briefing, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said that the gender disparity was alarming. “From Italy we’re seeing another concerning trend. That the mortality in males seems to be twice [the rate] in every age group of females,” Dr. Birx said.

A CNN and Global 50/50 collaboration found that men had higher alcohol and tobacco consumption rates than women – both thought to affect the severity of cases. Men were also more likely to have underlying health conditions that left them vulnerable to COVID-19, such as heart or lung disease.

In New York City, the case split is nearly even – 51 percent of patients are men and 49 percent are women. But 61 percent of the people who died were male, 7,100 of the 11,700 total deaths.