“Pandemics naturally thrive most in big cities”

In a prior post, we recapped the IHME Murray Model — the coronavirus forecasting model foundational to the Coronavirus Task Force’s thinking.

The model’s developers make clear that the model does not consider either population density or the utilization of public mass transit.

In other words, it doesn’t consider the effect of urbanization.


I expect that the model will be refined to consider the urbanization variable since Dr. Birx keeps saying “we’ll be drilling down to the county level” …  and since some pandemic historians note that pandemics naturally thrive most in big cities.

Here’s what they’re talking about…



Joel Kotkin —  is Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University has penned an article with the ominous title The End of New York .  Kotkin asks the question:

Will the pandemic push America’s greatest city over the edge?

The entire article is worth reading.

My interest is the pandemic angle, on which Kotkin observes:

Pandemics naturally thrive most in big cities, where people live cheek by jowl and are regularly exposed to people from other regions and countries.

For example, the bubonic plague came to Europe on ships from the Orient, where the disease originated.

As historian William McNeill noted, the plague devastated the cosmopolitan centers of Renaissance Italy far more than the backward reaches of Poland or other parts of central Europe.

Half of all COVID-19 cases in Spain, for example, have occurred in Madrid, while the Lombardy region in Italy, which includes the city of Milan, accounts for roughly half of all cases in the country and over 60% of the deaths.

Globally, the vast majority of cases occur in places that are both densely populated and connected to the global economy.


In contrast, suburban, exurban, and small-town residents get spared the brunt of pandemic forces.

Suburban, exurban, and small-town residents get around in the sanctuary of their private cars [versus mass transit] and have far more room in their neighborhood and inside their houses.

They do not usually get lots of visitors from outside, particularly from abroad.

Overall, most rural areas around the world have been largely spared, at least for now, due to much less crowding and less casual human contact, which abound in cities.

Being away from people, driving around in your own car, and having neighbors you know, all have clear advantages when it comes to avoiding and surviving a contagion.


My point isn’t philosophical, it’s strictly statistical.

Strikes me that data modelers would be well served including some measures of urbanization in their models.


Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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2 Responses to ““Pandemics naturally thrive most in big cities””

  1. Some determinants of urban viral contagion… | The Homa Files Says:

    […] See: ‘“Pandemics naturally thrive most in big cities” […]

  2. Why is New York ablaze while California is just simmering? | The Homa Files Says:

    […] “Pandemics naturally thrive most in big cities” and Some determinants of urban viral […]

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