Residents of Los Angeles can go to a county website to look up how many confirmed coronavirus cases there are in Beverlywood, or Koreatown, or Echo Park. Officials in Charlotte, North Carolina, have released figures at the ZIP code level. The South Korean government is sending geotargeted texts to alert citizens to positive cases near them.
In New York, now at the center of the outbreak, Mayor Bill de Blasio has resisted releasing what the city knows about a basic question: Where, precisely, is the virus?
Answers could take the form of a number of data points — tests, confirmed infections, hospitalizations or deaths — each of which shed light on a different part of the crisis.
Instead New York, along with several other state and county governments around the country, has released daily data only on the county, or borough, level. That means there is just one figure for COVID-19 cases in all of Kings County — Brooklyn — which has a population larger than 15 states.
The roughly 4,600 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Brooklyn’s 2.6 million residents account for 8% of the confirmed cases in the entire country. There is also just one coronavirus case figure for the 2.2 million residents of Queens, where there are just over 5,000 confirmed cases.
The lack of detailed information makes it difficult for medical workers, journalists and the public to establish whether particular communities in the city are being harder hit and to get beyond anecdotal accounts of which of the city’s roughly 60 hospitals are already overwhelmed.
Dr. Michael Augenbraun, director of the infectious diseases division at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in central Brooklyn, said that while he knows the city has its hands full, the data could be useful for doctors. “Everyone is struggling to make sense of this evolving picture,” he said. “I think it would be useful to us in the hospitals to get a detailed situational appraisal, to know how much of the burden we are confronting.”
Augenbraun noted that more precise data could reveal important trends in how the disease is affecting different New Yorkers. “There are many things that may correlate with the spread of infectious diseases,” he said. “Race might be one, poverty might be another.”
But some of those same factors, particularly ethnicity and race, may account for the city’s reluctance to make public more localized data that could point to clusters in particular neighborhoods, among certain communities. Around the country, there have been disturbing reports of bias attacks against Asian Americans by assailants blaming Chinese communities for the spread of the virus.
“The risk is that certain communities would be unfairly stigmatized, especially if communities with many COVID-19 cases already shoulder poverty or high crime,” said Dr. Jessica Justman, associate professor of medicine in epidemiology at Columbia University. “On the other hand, communication and information are always important and especially important in a pandemic setting.”
Some experts argue that the city should be releasing more granular information, perhaps even down to the block level.
“More detailed information will allow everyone to target their efforts much more effectively than only county-level information,” said John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center.
In Newark, the largest city in neighboring New Jersey, Mayor Ras Baraka has disclosed that there were three coronavirus hot spots where residents should take extra precautions. On March 21, the city released detailed maps of the areas, which cover between 50 and 100 square blocks; it did not release the specific number of cases for each area.
New York has held fast on the policy the mayor laid out during a March 12 press conference when he was asked by a reporter if the city could go beyond borough-level numbers and break down cases by neighborhoods. The mayor declined, saying only that the city would release figures in the case of what he called a “cluster.”
“When we say ‘community spread,’ the assumption should be that this is something that is going to reach every corner of the city, whether we like it or not,” he said at the press conference. “And I don’t think it’s particularly productive. I don’t know what you do with that information. I don’t know how you change your life. Unless there is an indication of a cluster, that’s something we absolutely will talk about.”
The city is sending homeless shelter residents and public hospital patients with coronavirus to hotels — but won’t say where.
And officials aren’t providing hotel staff or the city employees monitoring the infected guests with masks or any other form of protective equipment — instead instructing them to maintain social distance.
“Going into a hotel room with an infected patient is the same as going into a room of a hospital with an infected patient,” said City Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn), who called for protection for the workers.
The news came as officials confirmed the first death of a homeless New Yorker who succumbed to COVID-19.
The city’s Department of Homeless Services and the Health + Hospitals Corporation said the shelter residents and patients sent to the hotels are all experiencing low-level symptoms and do not require intensive medical care.
As of Wednesday, DHS had placed 65 individuals from shelters into hotel rooms.
Among them: residents who are infected, people who came in close contact with those who tested positive and shelter clients with potential coronavirus symptoms who haven’t been tested, officials said.
Overall, the city has lined up 500 rooms in four hotels, though only two facilities were being used as of Wednesday afternoon, officials said.
Isaac McGinn, a DHS spokesperson, declined to reveal the locations of the hotels, citing shelter residents’ privacy.
HHC wouldn’t say how many patients it had sent to the hotels so far. At least one HHC patient with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, had no known address and was routed to a hotel, via DHS.
The number of shelter residents infected with the virus jumped from 17 to 39 between Sunday night and Tuesday night, with the illness spreading from 12 to 27 separate shelters across the city during that time, DHS officials said. Twelve people have been hospitalized — including the unidentified person who died Tuesday.
Queens has the most COVID-19 cases in the city with 6,420 and had the biggest gain in the last 3 days at last count on THE CITY's website.
Followed by Brooklyn with 5,232, Manhattan with 3,616, Bronx with 3,532 (second biggest gain) and Staten Island with 1,166.
A total of 285 citywide have died by the virus.
I'm going to take a break for a few days.