Why are Manhattan’s COVID rates so low compared with the rest of NYC?
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Manhattan has a much lower COVID-19 infection rate than the four other boroughs. It also has many fewer hospitalizations and deaths. Yet the “experts” are astonishingly incurious as to why.
They tend to mention it only in passing, if at all. Why such scant attention to so tantalizing a phenomenon?
Manhattan doesn’t lie hundreds of miles offshore. It’s linked to the rest of the city by a half-dozen bridges, three tunnels and myriad train lines. Surely we ought to care why one borough is safer than the others, even as millions of people pass from one to another every day.
Despite The New York Times’ daily warnings of an imminent COVID “breakout” in the city, many who live in Manhattan — myself included — reasonably regard the island as a COVID-safe oasis. We confidently roam its parks, stores and museums. We fill restaurants indoors as well as outdoors. (Yes, we wear masks.)
Common-sense reasons for our relative safety might include higher income levels and better overall health than in the outer boroughs; fewer virus-spreading nursing homes than in Brooklyn, The Bronx and Queens; and Manhattan’s scarcity of Orthodox Jewish community “hot zones.”
But we need to know more than what “common sense” tells us. We need a serious, scientific study to quantify exactly what accounts for the disparity.
So why does it go largely unexamined? Perhaps because drawing attention to it would make nonsense of the like-minded COVID clerisy’s articles of faith. Chief among them, often cited by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and health professionals, is that “urban density” is a main driver of virus spread.
But shock! Manhattan is by far the most densely populated borough, with over 71,000 residents per square mile compared with 36,000 in Brooklyn, the second-most dense.
Yes, Manhattan lost some residents after the virus struck, but the mostly temporary relocations occurred in a few rich corners of the Upper East Side and Tribeca, and its overall density probably didn’t change drastically.
Notwithstanding our substantial numbers, Manhattan’s current new-infection rate is in the mere 2-plus percent range; it’s above 4 percent in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, per state data. Manhattan’s hospitalizations and deaths are far fewer than in the outer boroughs, too, city data show.
The state and city crank out different sets of numbers, yet both show Manhattan’s superior condition. For example, the state on Wednesday put Manhattan’s positivity rate at 2.87 percent, versus 4.4 percent in Brooklyn and nearly 5 percent in the three other boroughs. According to city data, Manhattan’s average of seven deaths per day was about half the toll in other boroughs except for Staten Island, the least populous, which had only two.
The gap shows up for hospitalizations, too. A ZIP code map of infections depicts most of Manhattan as a sea of light pink (for the fewest cases) surrounded by burgundy and near-black blotches elsewhere.
So much for “density” posing a threat to us all.
A related myth is the supposed menace of indoor dining. Manhattan clearly has more and larger restaurants than the other boroughs. Even so, the gap between borough infections remained in Manhattan’s favor throughout last fall’s 10-week period when city indoor dining was allowed at 25 percent capacity. And it has maintained its advantage since Cuomo allowed restaurants to open indoors with limited seating on Feb. 12.
If eating indoors could spread the virus as easily as some claim, wouldn’t Manhattan’s infection rate, hospitalizations and deaths swiftly have caught up with those in the outer boroughs?
A focus on borough-by-borough COVID cases would also shine a harsh light on a political hot potato that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo prefer to mostly ignore: large, often mask-less ultra-Orthodox gatherings including weddings, holiday celebrations and funerals. Although the mayor and governor condemned them, the only true deterrent — police crackdowns — is rarely applied.
Manhattan has none of the huge Hasidic congregations found in Brooklyn and Queens. A proper study of the extent to which they contribute to virus spread might well show an even greater impact on neighboring communities than government officials who fear losing votes are willing to acknowledge.
Vaccines are wonderful, but until many more New Yorkers are inoculated, we need every bit of knowledge we can muster to beat the bug. We’ll learn nothing by ignoring the lessons of Manhattan, wherever the trail leads.
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