New York was uniquely positioned the become the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak. The city's density, coupled with the early timing of its outbreak, helped fueled the virus' spread. Even as states begin to relax lockdown restrictions, no location will face the same circumstances as New York did in March. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Four months after the US recorded its first coronavirus case, New York still has nearly a quarter of US cases and 30% of the country's COVID-19 deaths. As the state's outbreak winds down and other parts of the country begin to relax lockdown restrictions, attention has shifted to locations that could become new hotspots and to the possibility of new waves of infections. Cases are still rising in Arizona, Illinois, California, and Texas. Illinois' Cook County alone — home to Chicago — has more infections than any other US county, excluding New York City. But it's highly unlikely that any state's outbreak will rival New York's. The state was a unique victim of density and timing. "Why New York? Why are we seeing this level of infection?" Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press briefing on April 13. "It's very simple. It's about density. It's about the number of people in a small geographic location allowing that virus to spread." New York City is one of the densest cities in the world, with more than 28,000 people per square mile. Even San Francisco, the second densest city in the US, doesn't come close. Before the pandemic, more than 5 million people in New York City took the subway each day. The city also has the largest school district in the US in terms of enrollment, with nearly 985,000 students. That means more people in New York were interacting with one another on a daily basis than in any other city, creating more opportunities for the virus to spread.
New York's outbreak also started before any regional lockdowns were in place in the US, and before testing capacity was sufficiently scaled up. Researchers have suggested that the virus was circulating in the city as early as mid-February. When New York's statewide lockdown went into effect on March 22, there were more than 10,000 recorded cases in New York City alone. And that's only the ones confirmed by tests. Now that all but five states have implemented some form of lockdown for at least a period of time, the virus is no longer spreading as freely. Even states that have loosened lockdown restrictions aren't reverting to the same behaviors they practiced before the pandemic.
In Florida, restaurants and retail stores are only operating at 50% capacity, social distancing and sanitation measures are required at gyms, and bars and movie theaters remain closed. California is requiring curbside pickup and physical distancing at retail stores — and Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state may not allow spectators at professional sporting events when those games resume this summer. These lingering restrictions help reduce the potential for a second wave of infections. Research from Imperial College London suggests that around one-third of coronavirus transmission occurs in households, one-third takes place in schools and workplaces, and one-third happens in the community (at churches, bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and playgrounds). If people continue to work remotely, take food to-go, and social distance in public, the chance of transmission goes down, even once a state is fully "reopen." The researchers even found that maintaining social distancing for the next two years could be enough to prevent a second wave — a prediction recently echoed by Harvard public-health experts. That means no place will face the same circumstances that New York did in March, as the virus spread silently through the nation's most crowded city.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why the Bronx has almost double the coronavirus cases as Manhattan
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The coronavirus outbreak in New York City became the primary source of infections around the United...The coronavirus outbreak in New York City became the primary source of infections around the United States, researchers have found.
People who traveled from New York across the US in early March caused nearly 65% of coronavirus cases in the rest of the country, research suggests
Research indicates that infected travelers from New York transmitted nearly 65% of new coronavirus cases across...Research indicates that infected travelers from New York transmitted nearly 65% of new coronavirus cases across the US, according to The New York Times. The genetic signature of the strain of the virus prevalent in New York connect it to outbreaks in Europe, while the infections in Washington state were linked to China, scientists found. Enforcing stay-at-home orders earlier would have helped cut down on the infection's transmission. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Thousands of travelers carried the coronavirus from New York around the United States in early March, triggering most of the new cases that erupted nationwide. The New York Times reported on Thursday that tiny genetic mutations helped researchers track between 60% and 65% of new infections back to the outbreak in the country's biggest city. "We now have enough data to feel pretty confident that New York was the primary gateway for the rest of the country," Nathan Grubagh, of the Yale School of Public Health, told the Times. Grubagh said that introducing social-distancing guidelines earlier would have helped reduce the disease's spread. New York's schools were shut down on March 15 and Gov. Andrew Cuomo put the state on lockdown one week later. But by then, New York had already become "the Grand Central Station for this virus, with the opportunity to move from there in so many directions, to so many places," David Engelthaler, head of the infectious disease branch of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona, told the Times. The number of cases statewide shot up from 15,168 cases on March 22 to 59,513 patients by March 27, according to the COVID Tracking Project. As of Thursday, more than 327,400 people across New York have been infected by the coronavirus and at least 26,144 have died. "It means that we missed the boat early on, and the vast majority in this country is coming from domestic spread," Kristian Andersen, an immunology and microbiology professor at Scripps Research told the Times. "I keep hearing that it's somebody else's fault. That's not true. It's not somebody else's fault, it's our own fault." The Times analyzed cellphone and travel data and discovered that the number of cases in different places depended on how many people went there from New York about two weeks before the state's stay-at-home order was issued. The newspaper also found that the minor genetic mutations of New York's virus connect it to COVID-19 outbreaks in Europe, while the infections in Washington state were linked to China. (The strains do not differ in terms of the symptoms or severity of infections.) Benjamin Branham, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, told the Times that customs officials "only screened passengers from China," not from Europe. Dani Lever, communications director for Cuomo, criticized the federal government for the "enormous failure" of leaving the East Coast "exposed to flights from Europe, while at the same time instilling a false sense of security by telling the State of New York that we had no COVID cases throughout the entire month of February." But Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, disagreed. "Just as he acted early on to cut off travel from the source of the virus, President Trump was advised by his health and infectious disease experts that he should cut off travel from Europe — an action he took decisively without delay to save lives while Democrats and the media criticized him and the global health community still did not fully comprehend the level of transmission or spread," he told the Times.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How viruses like the coronavirus mutate