More proof that New York City and Boston need to be abandoned or reconfigured

Want to stop coronaplague? The Church of Shutdown says it is as simple as social distancing. But an analysis of social distancing by the Maryland Transportation Institute shows that the very places that are best at social distancing are the ones that are suffering from the worst coronaplague:

Right near the top, the most plague-ridden states: NY, NJ, CT, MA.

Are the wicked being punished? Wyoming and Montana are at the bottom and people there are not dropping dead.

In “Data on nationwide excess deaths” I wrote the following:

Should we suspect from these data that the problems NYC has had with Covid-19 are idiosyncratic? Some other cities and regions also had exposure starting at roughly the same time (mid-January?) and those places locked down within a few days of the NYC shutdown. Yet excess deaths are fairly low (or actually negative) almost everywhere other than NYC.

Is it possible that we’re fighting a nationwide war against a virus that is attacking only a handful of cities for reasons that are peculiar to those cities? Or possibly peculiar to the strain of the virus that has been circulating in those cities? If we take out metro NYC, Detroit, New Orleans (they’re not going to have a second Mardi Gras this year, right?), and Boston, does the “U.S.” actually have excess deaths or any kind of problem with Covid-19 that couldn’t be handled with the most basic precautions?

(And how would we handle the apparently idiosyncratic problems with these cities? Tell New Orleans that Mardi Gras is henceforth restricted to the sober (90% reduction in crowding?). Reopen the United States economy and use the money to pay roughly half of NYC residents to move out to suburbs and other states. The super high density plainly has made NYC a breeding ground for any enterprising virus. Run more subway trains in Boston so that people aren’t jammed in like sardines and/or pay people to leave the city, as in New York. I’m at at loss to know what to do about Detroit, I must confess!)

Is the above chart proof that there is something about NYC and Boston that makes them ideal hosts for a viral epidemic? People in these cities have given maximum effort to observe the tenets of the Church of Shutdown, yet Covid-19 continues to infect and kill while leaving nearly the entire rest of the U.S. alone. Could this be just bad luck? France and Spain went off the rails with Covid-19, while Germany, at least if we believe their official death numbers, was barely touched. On the other hand, if we truly have faith in the Religion of Shutdown, aren’t we forced to conclude that Boston and New York are simply incompatible with a world of 8 billion humans interconnected by air travel?

(What would be ironic if not sad, at least for people like me who live in Boston, is that when this plague was new people in Boston and New York confidently predicted doom for the Deplorable-infested southern states. Intelligence and virtue would protect Boston and New York while stupidity, racism, and sexism would prevent Florida and Texas from responding competently. Now that Massachusetts has 10X the death rate of Florida and 20X the death rate of Texas, the jeering seems to have stopped.)

Also, does the chart falsify the familiar refrain from self-satisfied Californians that the reason they were substantially spared is that they purportedly shut down earlier than New York? The chart shows that, in fact, New York was socially distanced a week prior to California.


28 thoughts on “More proof that New York City and Boston need to be abandoned or reconfigured

  1. There is probably a correlation between places with high levels of government incompetence/corruption and morbidity. So New York, NJ, Boston, New Orleans and Detroit are all well known for high levels of municipal corruption, i.e., tax revenues do not end up where they should. So here in NYC the Mayor gave his wife’s “nonprofit” a billion dollars supposedly to fight mental illness. And what they did with the money was put posters up in the subways, are you feeling alone? unwanted? a little blue? Then call the hotline number. The posters looked as if they were meant to appeal to a 19 year old girl who just broken up with her boyfriend. They of course did not mean much to the deranges who stalk the subways, urinate and defecate on the subways and use them for sleeping. So is it really surprising then that the subways are obviously a breeding ground for disease, a large part of which is probably a function of people who use it as a public toilet/hotel. Now that is just one example but i am sure there are lots of similar stories in these other loser states. Take New Orleans. The media narrative on Hurricane Katrina was that George Bush was indifferent to the suffering of black Americans. It later turned out that the real story was municipal corruption and tax dollar that had not gone to levy construction.

    • If you read Popular Mechanics, you knew that New Orleans was living on borrowed time in 2001, almost exactly four years before Katrina:

      “New Orleans is Sinking” – September 11, 2001 <— !!!

      "During a strong hurricane, the city could be inundated with water blocking all streets in and out for days, leaving people stranded without electricity and access to clean drinking water. Many also could die because the city has few buildings that could withstand [it]…Had Camille, a Category 5 storm, made landfall at New Orleans, instead of losing her punch before arriving, her winds would have blown twice as hard and her storm surge would have been three times as high."

      Four years later, Katrina hit as a Category 5 and that's basically what happened. New Orleans had several previous brushes with disaster that also went unheeded; they were running out of lives:

      "If slightly different paths had been followed by Hurricanes Camille, which struck in August 1969, Andrew in August 1992 or George in September 1998, today we might need scuba gear to tour the French Quarter."

      Ray "Chocolate City" Nagin attributed Katrina's devastation to the wrath of God, not decades of incompetence.

      "Some people found the implication of Nagin claiming to know God's will to be as troubling as the racial aspects of his speech.[38] He then condemned Washington D.C., by saying God "sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country", suggesting God's disapproval of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[39]"

  2. One possible cause for all the different levels of infections could be the initial conditions. The initial conditions could be more important than the social distancing, because even in the best cases social distancing is not uniformly applied.

    If one city had an initial 10 people and another city had an initial 100 people, that arrived by train, boat, airplane, could this account for the differences in infection rates once you account for the health, age, density and etc of the particular population?

    • Pavel: Absent two months of uncontained exponential growth (mid-Jan to mid-March), I would agree with you. But given the purported fact (exponential growth) combined with some of the less-plagued states shutting down later (or not shutting down as thoroughly, e.g., South Dakota (only the unionized teachers get a holiday!)), I don’t see how variation in seeding can account for the 10-100X difference in plague death rates.

  3. When social distancing was implemented in NYC and NY, it was a bit too late.

    Social distancing in WY was better timed (before the population was seeded with infected individuals).

    Social distancing in NYC (7 million population in 302.6 mi²) might not be the same as social distancing in WY (560,000 in 97,818 mi²).

    Boston has 700,000 in 89.63 mi². The Boston region has 6 million (unknown area).

    philg: “…shows that the very places that are best at social distancing are the ones that are suffering from the worst coronaplague.”

    It should be clear to you that it’s possible that these regions might have been worse off without social distancing. Do you really need to be reminded that “correlation does not mean causation”?

  4. > Also, does the chart falsify the familiar refrain from self-satisfied Californians that the reason they were substantially spared is that they purportedly shut down earlier than New York?

    Do Californians say that, or do Bay Area residents say that? I think the Bay Area did better than LA in part because of the early outbreak of Santa Clara combined with LA being more dense and more connected. The Bay Area has a bay and several mountain ranges turning it into thin strips of populations that don’t need to travel much once work has stopped. Ventura to the border is a series of thick, wide, concentrated regions: Ventura, Simi, The Valley. LA Basin, Riverside, Orange County, San Diego

  5. Shut downs do you stop people using high rise elevators and lobbies. So hundreds of people in thousands of buildings pass through confined spaces every hour. Then those same people go down in more confined tunnels to ride the subway and share the same confined air. Then multiple this exposure problem by 10M people who are all packed together in the city. I bet if you did a shared air study with some statistics you would see giant cross contamination numbers. Downtown Boston has the same issues.

  6. We should have learned from the Cruise boats and the meat packing plants that shared air in tight spaces causes lots of infection. We have learned in the cruise boat cases that staying in your cabin is not enough to stop the infection. Shutdowns do not stop sharing air in high rise buildings (or cruise boats) with OK filtering but not micron tight filtering. So one sick person in a building or ship could infect 1000s even if everyone stays home. And the density of high rises in NYC Manhattan is one key feature that could be driving all their problems..

  7. > Is the above chart proof that there is something about NYC and Boston that makes them ideal hosts for a viral epidemic?

    On March 28, the WHO tweeted to the world:

    FACT! #COVID19 is NOT airborne!

    Nature chimed in on April 2: Well, yes and no.

    The World Health Organization says the evidence is not compelling, but scientists warn that gathering sufficient data could take years and cost lives.
    “In the mind of scientists working on this, there’s absolutely no doubt that the virus spreads in the air,” says aerosol scientist Lidia Morawska at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. “This is a no-brainer.”

    “…Cowling thinks masks should be recommended for the public only after supplies have been secured for health-care workers, people with symptoms, and vulnerable populations such as the elderly.”

    As you know, Massachusetts’ statewide mask order goes into effect May 6. Now it’s just “common sense” according to Governor Baker.

  8. Err. Stockholm (not Oslo).

    Stockholm has 1 million people in 72.59 mi². So, it’s similar to Boston. The Stockholm area has 1.4 million the Boston area has 6 million).

    Still, Boston might have been hit earlier (before social distancing). And Sweden’s lower rate might be a consequence lower rates of people traveling in and out normally and because people stopped travelling from places that were social distancing.

    That is, Sweden might not be proof that social distancing isn’t useful. That is, social distancing might not be necessary in Sweden because other places were doing it.

  9. Also different places might have immunity to different kinds of viruses, i.e. (hypothetically) due to life style or exposure to previous similar viruses people in Sweden might have better immunity to this kind of virus then Bostonians.

  10. >people in Sweden might have better immunity to this kind of virus

    That would be a scientific scoop! This is a novel coronavirus, whose defining characteristic is that humans do not have previous exposure to it – and without exposure, no immunity.

    • OC: This idea does sound crazy (though not as crazy as stopping an epidemic with a “lockdown” in which people meet, unmasked, for 7 weeks in crowded “essential” stores!). On the other hand, there are apparently some variations in European populations that affect the likelihood of being resistant to HIV:

      says “In Norway, where 15% of residents were born abroad, 25% who had tested positive for COVID-19 by April 19 were foreign-born. Somalis, with 425 confirmed cases, are the largest immigrant group testing positive, accounting for 6% of all confirmed cases — more than 10 times their share of the population.”

      Of course, the righteous journalists cannot explain this with genetics. The Somalis’ victimhood explains their vulnerability to coronavirus compared to the native Scandinavians. But can we be sure that comparative victimhood explains all of the difference?

      Other than knowing that Joe Biden survived, we don’t have great statistics from the Black Death. Maybe some European populations had immune systems that did respond better. If there is a variation in appearance between the typical Swede and typical Italian, why not a variation in susceptibility to a virus?

    • @philg Of course it is possible that Somalis have shit genes that causes them to be weak against COVID-19. It is also possible that these people live in more confined lodgings, have poorer hygiene habits, that the foreign-born had worse health systems when they were young, or that many of the older foreign-born have poor Norwegian language skills and missed the early instructions from the government.

    • Philg: Interesting stuff in those links, thanks!

      I think the explanation for the Somali community in Norway may be that they have service jobs that expose them to the general public, so they’re more susceptible to coronavirus infection. They thus picked it up at a higher than base rate.

      I think it’s a safe bet to say that there’s a spectrum of susceptibility to infection between people. From super-susceptible (and superspreaders, implicitly!) people – they are very susceptible for various reasons, most no fault of their own – they have jobs that put them in close contact with many different people (service industry, politicians), have personality traits that make them touch more and/or disregard hygiene protocols – to the opposite end, the low susceptibility paranoid that always somehow isolate, use Purell even outside of flu season and follow protocols like they work in a BSL-4 lab.

      My guess is that the current plague has probably already burned through these super-susceptible groups. That’s good news as my guess is they’re also superspreaders for the same reasons that they’re super-susceptible.

      >If there is a variation in appearance between the typical Swede and typical Italian, why not a variation in susceptibility to a virus?

      Now you’re threading on thin, thin ice down a path to perdition, my friend. I’m still 90s style blind to such variation in appearance and can only see how unique everyone is. Including you!

  11. Tuesday, May 5: Nobody knows anything. They’re doing the science and making up the policy as they go along. – Chapter MCMLXXXIV, “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here”

    1) Looks like the virus mutated into a nastier strain that took over in most heavily plagued areas in March. So maybe none of the early efforts to develop a vaccine based on the early, nicer strains will work. If the virus mutates this quickly, maybe they never will work. Los Alamos tells us this is great for science and not to be too disheartened.

    “This is hard news,” wrote Korber, “but please don’t only be disheartened by it. Our team at LANL was able to document this mutation and its impact on transmission only because of a massive global effort of clinical people and experimental groups, who make new sequences of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) in their local communities available as quickly as they possibly can.”

    Great! I feel better already!

    2) Revised modeling says the death rate is still rising in the US and will nearly double to hit 3,000 a day on June 1. Who can reopen the economy with the plague getting twice as bad in the next month?

    3) The actual unemployment numbers by the end of April are going to be much worse than previously predicted:

    “Their estimate: a ‘U-Cov’ rate in April of somewhere between 25.1% and 34.6%. That’s compared to the 16% rate forecast by economists polled by Reuters, who also estimate American employers shed more than 20 million jobs last month.”

    4) The protein food supply chain that a month ago was doing just fine has now “fallen apart.”

    Oh, forget it. No more links. It’s all there on this morning’s Drudge Report. The cataclysm has shifted into high gear for the spring.

  12. Phil, you seem to be engaged in motivated reasoning. An interpretation of the data to fit what you would like to be true (shutdown = useless). There are a number of factors other than shutdown date/vigour that could lead to the different outcomes across states. It is perhaps no coincidence that the vertical ordering in the figure you show is very well correlated with population density, or with fraction of people living in urban areas. Typical people in WY, MT, SD, are much less likely to travel widely or to interact with as many different people on their work days, especially when compared to people living in DC, NY, and NJ.

    Since you did not have twin states where one enacted a lockdown and the other didn’t, it is nearly impossible to truly estimate the effects of a lockdown. As others have pointed out above, a lockdown is only as efficient as long as the disease was not widespread before the shutdown. There are now signs that COVID-19 was in France in December, much earlier than previously thought. Preliminary tests from antibody studies show that a few percent of the population (ranging from 1%-15%) have been infected, which still leaves a lot of people out there ripe for infection! If we were to totally stop the shutdown and resume life as it was, it is difficult to imagine that it would not lead to another torrent of deaths.

    I hate the shutdown as much as anyone else, but I think it is really wishful thinking to assume it is useless.

    • Jarle: How do you explain the radical differences between California and New York? California has a lot of contact with China, at least as much as New York. The chart shows that Californians did not engage in significant social distancing until a week after New York did. If NYC is not inherently a much cozier home for the virus than Los Angeles and San Francisco, what else accounts for the plague prevalence disparity?

    • @philg I don’t know. But the population-weighted density of NYC is about three times that of the big CA metro areas: San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose and Los Angeles. You probably get fewer infection vectors living in a large house as opposed to a dense building.

    • Jarle: If you think that the population density of NYC made it ripe for a plague relative to Los Angeles and the Bay Area, that’s support for the original post! There is actually something different about NYC and Boston that makes them unsustainable for humans facing a virus. Even if we accept your faith in the Church of Shutdown as true, we still need to abandon NY and Boston because the Religion of Shutdown is not powerful enough to fight a virus in those places (but it is powerful enough in Los Angeles, Orlando, and Dallas!).

  13. The common thread is that the top affected areas have densely packed commuter rail, isn’t it? And common people living in high rises. Sure a few CA and TX wealthy young people live in tall buildings but those low wage essential workers live in sprawling apartment complexes. Compare that to NYC low income high rises.

  14. “Maybe some European populations had immune systems that did respond better. If there is a variation in appearance between the typical Swede and typical Italian, why not a variation in susceptibility to a virus?”

    Portugal’s death rate is a lot lower than Spain’s (I would assume that both countries are genetically very similar). Greece has been untouched by the virus (almost). Most likely explanation for the variations: the virus did not get there (yet)

  15. Why did Jeff Bezos move the planned AMAZON-2 site out of New York?
    Did he know this was coming?
    Didn’t it start in AMAZON-1 city of Seattle?

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