Nearly 160,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in New York State, more than in any country in the world, and close to 8,000 deaths: why has this state of 19 million people been so affected by the pandemic? Did you underestimate it and take radical action?
These are the answers to some questions, 40 days after the appearance of the first case in the largest city in the United States.
– Was New York more vulnerable? –
Governor Andrew Cuomo repeated it many times. New York City, with a population of 8.6 million people, is a megalopolis with a high population density, with more than 10,000 inhabitants per km2. A land conducive to the spread of infectious diseases. In addition, millions use public transport every day.
It is also one of the world’s leading tourist destinations: it receives more than 60 million tourists each year.
According to American genetic experts, the virus arrived from Europe to New York in February.
A study published in March by the educational blog Clever ranked New York as the “most vulnerable” city to the epidemic in the country, ahead of San Francisco, Washington, Detroit and Miami.
The metropolis is characterized by strong socioeconomic inequalities and overcrowding in some popular neighborhoods in Queens or the Bronx, where many New Yorkers suffer from health problems and do not have access to health care. These neighborhoods – where millions of Hispanics live – are the most affected by the coronavirus. The infection rate in the Bronx, for example, is twice that of Manhattan (1,273 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, versus 611 in Manhattan).
“With the density, the overcrowding, the poverty, New York met all the prerequisites to sustain the hypothesis that it would be hit very hard,” said Irwin Redlener, professor of public health at Columbia University.
– Did the authorities underestimate the risk? –
On March 2, the first case was confirmed in New York and the next day, when another was detected in New Rochelle, in the suburbs, Governor Cuomo affirmed that the city has “the best health system on the planet.” “We do not think that the situation here can be as bad as in other countries,” he said then.
After much hesitation, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the closure of public schools, bars and restaurants on March 16. The governor decreed the lockdown and closure of all non-essential activities a week later, on March 22.
Did they take too long? Experts hesitate to criticize.
“The mayor and the governor were under pressure,” Irwin said. “Some were pushing to quickly close schools,” “others underlined the economic and social consequences” of the decision, he added. “The messages were confusing.”
– Did other states react better? –
California, the most populous state in the country, is cited many times as an example for its rapid reaction to the epidemic. On Friday it registered 20,200 cases, and 50 deaths.
“What’s remarkable is that six counties in the San Francisco region came together on March 16 to enact a confinement order,” followed by a statewide isolation order on March 19, Meghan McGinty said. , an expert in disaster prevention at Johns Hopkins University.
“There was a real coherence,” while in the New York region each county made its decisions without coordinating, he said.
Six days passed between school closings and the isolation order in New York, he recalled. “In terms of an epidemic, six days are light years … A posteriori we can say that New York waited too long.”
– Whose fault is it? –
The mayor and the governor of New York deplored for weeks the initial delay of the Donald Trump government to send tests to the states, still insufficient to know the true extent of the pandemic.
When deaths from the coronavirus far exceed those of the attacks of September 11, 2001, which left 2,753 deaths in New York, the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, also very affected, asked that a commission like the one created after 11 September analyze the mistakes made.
“There were red flags, what happened?” Cuomo said Friday. “No response, how can we make sure it won’t happen again?”
In the wake of the huge number of people affected and the millions unemployed “we have a moral obligation” to analyze what happened, Meghan McGinty said.