East Coast v. West Coast: How two states are faring with COVID-19

So here we are, approaching about a month of sheltering-in-place all in order to “bend the curve.” And it seems like things are working out so far, at least here on the West Coast. The number of cases here in California are dramatically — even exponentially — lower than New York’s and I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately.

Well for one, it shows how strict government intervention with a clear message from the get-go can have a dramatic effect on public health during this crisis. Officials here in California were fast in ordering their shelter-in-place mandates while officials in New York were a bit wish-washy. See the tweet below:

This has resulted in two radically different outcomes. California so far has experienced 19,472 cases with only 541 deaths for a population of nearly 40 million. New York, on the other hand, has experienced 180,458 cases with 8,627 deaths for a population of 18.8 million people. (These stats are pulled from an open source table and so given your opinion on open source data, the veracity may be open to dispute. But hey, I think the peoples of the Interwebs do a good job of holding each other accountable.)

So one has to wonder why the major discrepancies?

Well for starters, the shelter-in-place orders seem to have played some sort of factor. California became the first state in the nation to issue one on March 19. It took another three days for New York state to fall under similar guidelines. Sheltering in place has also been shown to be a very effective tool at mitigating the spread of contagions historically. Here’s a tweet with a link to an interesting National Geographic article about how cities across America handled the Spanish flu and how social distancing seemed to have mattered:

Another issue for the differing outcomes may be due to the density levels in each state. New York City is New York state’s most populous city with a population of 8.77 million people, accounting for almost half of the state’s population. In California, the most populous city is Los Angeles with a little over 4 million people, only about 10 percent of California’s total population. However, there are other dense cities across the state of California, but none of them are nearly as dense as New York City.

According to Statista, a statistics aggregation site that pulls data from “over 80,00 topics from more than 22,500 sources” (aka real nerd shit), the number of people per square mile for New York in 2019 was 412.8 while in California it was 253.7 people per square mile. And so, this points the readily available space that Californians enjoy when compared to their East Coast counterparts. It means that the ability to maintain that recommended six feet of separation is much more easily achieved in the golden rays of sunshine in California than it is in New York (I’m a bit biased, sorry).

Another contributing factor to New York’s higher case numbers may also be transportation. New York City has a massive public transportation system, something that is extremely lacking and much needed in California in my opinion. From January to December of last year, over 2.7 billion passenger trips were registered for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of NYC, a system that boasts to serve 15.3 million people “across a 5,000-square-mile travel area surrounding New York City through Long Island, southeastern New York State, and Connecticut.”

In two of California’s more populous cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, only 165.2 million passenger trips were registered for the same time period. According to the American Public Transportation Association — the body who provided the above numbers — California’s most widely used public transit system is in the Bay Area. The Bay Area Rapid Transit, BART for short, serves all of the major cities in the Bay Area which include San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, among others. However, many of the Bay Area residents enjoy the ability to drive on hella (Bay Area slang for “a lot” or “very”) wide highways, and that is Mos Def not a thing in NYC.

As we continue through this crisis, let us continue to keep practicing social distancing and only going out to heavily-trafficked areas unless we absolutely need to. The pains of the economy will only continue and we should focus our ire on those in power and demand action that benefits the public and not corporations. At the end of the day, we are all in this together. And when I say “we,” I mean you and I and not man-made entities that enjoy “corporate personhood.”

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