I was greatly frustrated by this column by Justin Fox at Bloomberg, trying to draw inadequate analogies between New York City and (among others) San Francisco:
As a Manhattan resident, I’ll be the first to admit that New York City in general and Manhattan in particular are not optimally designed for social distancing. People here tend to get around not in their own automobiles but on foot or by bus, subway, taxi or ride-share. We buy our groceries mostly not in giant wide-aisled supermarkets but in cramped little stores. We live cheek-by-jowl in apartment buildings, with elevators usually too small to accommodate the 6-foot rule. Most of us don’t have our own outdoor spaces, meaning that walking the dog or just getting some fresh air requires venturing out in public. And surely Manhattan is the only place in the U.S. where having your own washing machine is such a luxury that even lots of people in the top 10% of income distribution don’t (not because they can’t afford it but because their buildings ban them for fear of overtaxing ancient plumbing).
I am skeptical of the argument, though, that density equals danger in this age of Covid-19. For one thing, a bunch of East Asian cities even more densely populated than New York have successfully withstood the initial onslaught of the disease, indicating that well-conceived and well-executed public-health measures can more than counteract the disadvantages posed by millions of people living on top of one another. For another, New York City’s density is so anomalous in the U.S. context that I doubt its trials tell us much of anything about which other areas of the country are best equipped to fight off a pandemic.
What if population density is a factor but it isn’t the only factor? Consider this:
|New York||San Francisco||Wuhan, China|
|February||43° / 29°||61° / 48°||51° / 37°|
|March||52° / 36||62° / 49°||60° / 45°|
|April||64° / 45°||63° / 50°||72° / 56°|
Those are median high and low temperatures for the three cities for February, March, and April. Need I pull out statistics that demonstrate that Los Angeles and Honolulu are both warmer than that? What if the key factors are population density and temperature? Or humidity?
I see all sorts of people wrapping themselves in the mantle of science and making sweeping generalizations. The reality is that we don’t know enough about the virus that produces COVID-19 to make such generalizations.
I don’t know that temperature or humidity have anything to do with the contagion at all. And I don’t think anybody else does, either, but it’s sure a tempting possibility.
What if none of the measures taken anywhere have “lowered the curve”? What if any curve-lowering is due to factors other than testing, isolation, or any other policy measures and all of the claims are simply post hoc propter hoc reasoning?