Difference Between COVID-19 Cases in CA vs. NY Is Likely Sheer Luck: Experts

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Experts in disease control say the main difference between California and New York isn’t density or area, but when people started staying home and sheer luck.

All in all, New York has had nine times as many cases, seven times the people in hospitals and 14 times the deaths.

“We made a big bold bet on a new strategy and it is bearing fruit,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. 

Meanwhile New York had its deadliest day yet, with 779 deaths in 24 hours.

“The bad news isn’t just bad,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “The bad news is actually terrible.” 

UCSF Epidemiologist George Rutherford said that when it comes to New York, some of it is simply a matter of bad luck.

“In New York, one of the very original patients was a so-called super spreader,” said Rutherford. “A man in New Rochelle and it was something like 113 people who became infected.”

Then, there are social distancing differences. Bay Area leaders ordered residents to shelter-at-home starting March 17, five days before New York and before a major social event.

“One of the things I think the health officers deserve a lot of credit for was that we went to shelter-in-place before St. Patrick’s Day,” said Rutherford.

Other researchers are looking at environmental differences. In a new Harvard study, they found New York County’s long-term air pollution levels were 42% higher than San Francisco County’s.

While we cannot say for certain that air pollution caused the differences in any two counties' COVID-19 outcomes, we can say that on average, we would expect a county with long-term exposure of 13.5 to have an 82% increase in COVID-19 mortality rate compared to a county with exposure 9.5," said the study's lead author Rachel Nethery, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Rutherford said that through luck and great leadership, we’ve probably saved more than 1,000 lives in the Bay Area alone.

“People in the Bay Area have done a fabulous job, but in the land of football analogies, we just started the third quarter and it’s not time to let up from what we’re doing,” he said.

Contact Us