(EnviroNews DC News Bureau) — Both New York (ranked fourth by total population) and California (ranked first) harbor huge populations compared to other U.S. states, and both were visited by millions of foreign travellers in the months leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak that started in January. However, New York has about two and a half times as many cases as California and a fatality rate that is more than double, while having a population less than half the size. But why?
As of June 2, 2020, about 7.9 percent of the people diagnosed with coronavirus in New York have died. Leading the country with 380,825 infected and 29,988 dead, New York occupies the top spot for COVID-19 in the U.S. according to worldometers.info. Neighboring New Jersey is second with 162,642 cases and about 11,732 deaths.
California ranks fourth in infections with about 115,119 patients and is seventh in deaths with 4,287, a mortality rate of about 3.7 percent. According to the Covid Tracking Project, the two states had roughly the same number of infections during the first week of March.
Dr. Robert Wachter, professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said this to CNN:
When we write this history and look at the tens of thousands of lives in California that will have been spared, I think there will be lots of factors that went into it. The most important was that leaders of all types — whether they were in government or in businesses — took it seriously, believed that this was a real risk and did the right thing early.
On the evening of March 19, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) of California ordered everyone in the state to stay at home – or “shelter in place” as it was expressed in the state’s campaign. Los Angeles had already shut down restaurants, bars, and nightclubs on March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. However, San Francisco and its surrounding counties went a step further and ordered people to shelter in place on the same day L.A. issued its restaurant order. Travel was only sanctioned for essential business.
“When you act early, just as the curve is taking off, you can slow things down. That’s what we did,” Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody told CNN. “Early action is also extraordinarily disruptive, both socially and economically… If you wait and take action later, you get the same social and economic disruption — you get all those harms — but you don’t get as much benefit.”
New York state closed bars, night clubs, movie theaters and gyms on March 16 while restricting groups of people to 50 or fewer. This declaration overrode New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, who wanted to shut down bars and restaurants on March 17 at 9 am. The entire state shut down on March 22, 2020 with New York City, the country’s most populous city, closing at the same time.
“The virus can spread rapidly through the close interactions New Yorkers have in restaurants, bars and places where we sit close together. We have to break that cycle,” de Blasio said in a statement.
The leadership in California came from the bottom. Not only did Los Angeles and San Francisco shut down earlier than the state mandate, but L.A. is also requiring that people who go outside for essential reasons must wear face masks. Those who do not may be refused service. The businesses are required to provide masks for their employees. In Silicon Valley, it was the tech industry leading the way to prevent further infections.
“So [many] of the businesses, particularly in Northern California, are the tech businesses, and companies like Google and Apple and Salesforce and others told their employees to work from home as early as March 5,” said Wachter to CNN, “There was a general sense here that this is serious stuff, that the experts are telling us we need to do this — and people listened.”
De Blasio on the other hand, told New Yorkers to go out to eat the day before restaurants were shut down, a move he doesn’t regret. The Mayor and his security detail were seen at a YMCA gym before everything was closed. According to one source, other members of the gym were coughing and sneezing.
“It’s crazy that he made his staff and detail come with him to the gym and exposed them like that,” the source told CNN.
By contrast, Gov. Newsom has negotiated for enough supplies for his state and the rest of the western states. California has seen an influx of over 200 million N95 and surgical masks a month. Elon Musk of Tesla donated 1225 new ventilators to add to the stock that California has refurbished. California has enough ventilators to send to other states, including New York, for use in their responses.
“We’re confident that the number of ventilators that we currently have in possession are adequate to the task in the very short term,” Newsom told CNN while applauding California residents for doing their part in slowing the spread of the virus.
New York has had to beg for its supplies from the Federal Government. At the end of March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) requested 30,000 ventilators — a number, which President Donald Trump questioned.
“Thirty thousand? All right. Think of this. You know, you go to hospitals, they’ll have one in a hospital. And now, all of a sudden everybody’s asking for these vast numbers,” Trump told Fox News’ host Sean Hannity.
At a press conference on April 5, Gov. Cuomo said that New York was “literally going day-to-day with [its] supplies, with our staff, etc., which is counterintuitive and counter-operational for the entire healthcare system.” New York accepted an offer of 1,000 ventilators from China, while Oregon also sent a supply.
With a population of 40 million, California has over twice as many people living in it as New York State. However, California’s population density is about 251 people per square mile. New York State’s density is roughly 421 people per square mile. According to World Population Review, New York City’s population density is almost 28,000 people per square mile. San Francisco’s density is around 17,000, while Los Angeles has a density of about 8,500. When you chalk it all up, California’s sprawling demography helped to contain the virus as did early public health awareness campaigns.
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