Why is New York ablaze while California is just simmering?

That’s a question that I’ve been pondering…

The WSJ ran a piece titled “The Art of Coronavirus Modeling”.

Its main point was that statistical models are “tools, not oracles” … that the drastic recent changes in the IHME Model’s forecasts is evidence that models are, by their nature, imperfect and shouldn’t be used as sole determinants of policy.

I agree with all of that, but it’s not new news.

What caught my attention was that the article offered up some clues and conjecture about a  question that has been on my mind: Why is New York ablaze with coronavirus while California is just simmering?


Here’s what the WSJ offered up on the question…


The WSJ observes:

New York’s per capita fatalities are about 25 times higher than California’s though…

New York and California adopted social-distancing measures at roughly the same time and shut down businesses at about the same time.

Note: Gov. Newsom was the first to call for isolation of vulnerable populations and arguably, was quicker and more forceful re: stay-at-home and social distancing.  Some pundits observe that Californians have been more compliant than New Yorkers, but there’s no hard evidence to support that claim.

Density: New York state is about twice as dense as California, and New York City’s population is about 300 times more concentrated than the U.S. as a whole and 11 times more than Los Angeles County.

Note: The pivotal questions are (1) How many contagious people are there in the local population?” and (2) “How many infectiously-close contacts does a person routinely encounter?” 

See: “Pandemics naturally thrive most in big cities” and Some determinants of urban viral contagion…

Mass Transit: More than half of people in New York City use public transportation where they have a higher risk of virus exposure.

Note: The logic is straightforward: A person driving alone in a car is more isolated from contagion than a person riding in a subway car with potentially infected strangers.

Multigenerational households: In New York City, the coronavirus has hit the Bronx and West Queens much harder than Manhattan. But those neighborhoods also have large numbers of multigenerational households, which is thought to have stoked outbreaks in Italy and Spain.

Note: The household density — i.e. number of people in the household or apartment building — may be as determining as multigenerational presence.

The WSJ posits that multigenerational presence [and household density] could also help explain why per capita fatalities are 70% higher in Los Angeles County than in San Francisco.


I think that the WSJ is on the right track and and partially answered my NY-CA question.

Thinking more broadly, I submit that some other factors might explain city-to-city (or area-to-area) variations:

“Foreign” seeding: The prevalence of external “carriers” parachuting in and “seeding” the contamination.  Think: Travelers from Wuhan or other coronavirus hot spots — foreign or domestic (e.g. New Yorkers traveling to Florida)

Note: First case in metro NYC was a traveler from Wuhan. Conjecture is that Detroit outbreak was spawned by Wuhan connections to auto manufacturers and that New Orleans was seeded during Mardi Gras – an international “institution”. Governors in RI and FL have attempted shield their residents from New Yorkers, considered to have a higher rate of infection.

Demographics: So far, there has been reporting of location, age and gender, but not much else. There is emerging information that race and socio-economic factors are key determinants.  Specifically, it is indisputable that blacks are being hit disproportionately by the virus.

Health disparities: It’s generally accepted that coronavirus fatalities are a function of comorbidity factors: respiratory disease, hypertension, diabetes, coronary disease … and that they correlate with obesity.  Californians are generally given credit for healthier lifestyles.  Health officials in Detroit and New Orleans have publicly conceded; “for starters, we’re just sicker” .

Healthcare access & efficacy:  Both California and New York have excellent healthcare systems. But, other locales may not be as well equipped … and, its not certain that all citizens have practical access (think: hospital capacity, insurance coverage, hospital anxiety).

Testing access and accuracy:  Testing throughput volume and speed is still lagging.    The WSJ has reported that 1/3 of all coronavirus infected patients get false negative tests.  If true, many infected patients are being sent home with a false sense of security instead of being hospitalized for observation and care.

Note: Testing to date has largely been intended to (1) ration anticipated scarce hospital capacity by restricting hospitalization to proof-positives, and (2) screen front-line healthcare providers to get them “off the floor” and get them necessary healthcare.  Data gathering (from testing) has been haphazard — inconsistent and incomplete.  

Compliance: That is, with stay-at-home and social distancing orders.  I don’t mean spiritual compliance, I mean actual compliance.  For example, every time that someone leaves the “nest” (i.e. the “home” where the quarantined group is residing) and returns, the sterility of the nest is breached.  Does the returnee immediately wash there clothes and take a shower to disinfect themselves before other nest residents are exposed?

Note: Gallup has reported that 2/3’s of Americans are avoiding outside contact with others – either totally or “mostly”.


My point: Understanding area-to-area differences (e.g.  between NY and California) offers substantial learning re: how the virus works and how to model it.


Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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3 Responses to “Why is New York ablaze while California is just simmering?”

  1. April 9: COVID-19 Tracker | The Homa Files Says:

    […] News & Views on Marketing, Economics & Politics « Why is New York ablaze while California is just simmering? […]

  2. April 10: COVID-19 Tracker | The Homa Files Says:

    […] Background Reading: Why is New York ablaze while California is just simmering? […]

  3. April 11: COVID-19 Tracker | The Homa Files Says:

    […] Why is New York ablaze while California is just simmering? […]

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