Yet in New York and elsewhere, the number of cases nonetheless increased, even after stay-at-home orders went into effect. There are myriad reasons that happened, including that not everyone adhered to the orders. But one key reason is probably that not everyone could adhere to them — and that’s probably reflected in the city’s coronavirus numbers.
The peak number of deaths per day in the city came on April 7, according to data from the New York City health department. Since, the daily death toll has declined fairly steadily. The complete drop-off is misleading, we’ll note, since recent data is incomplete.
Over the course of April, the city released information breaking down the race and ethnicity of those infected with the virus, where such information could be determined. It quickly revealed disparities in how the virus was affecting New Yorkers, with an about-equal number of black, Hispanic and white deaths from covid-19 in a city where there are three white residents for every two black residents.
(For the graphs below, we took the most recent data on the past four Fridays and compared them. Those dates — April 6, 16, 22 and 30 — are marked on the graph above. The data from April 6 included only deaths. Racial groups besides Hispanic exclude Hispanic residents.)
If we look at the density of each racial group over the month compared with the density of that group in the population at issue (that is, as a percentage of only those New Yorkers who are white, black, Asian or Hispanic), the overrepresentation of black and Hispanic New Yorkers becomes obvious.
But remember, the city’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 20. The virus has an incubation of up to two weeks, meaning that until April 3 or so the city would be seeing new cases from people who were infected before the stay-at-home order went into effect. In other words, new cases after that point would be expected to be people who didn’t or couldn’t abide by the order.
If we look at the density of each group just among new cases in the periods we identified, you see how new infections broke out by group. In the most recent period, from April 22 to 30, most of the new cases of people who didn’t need to be hospitalized were Hispanic. About half of those who were hospitalized were also Hispanic. The density of deaths among Hispanic New Yorkers increased substantially as well.
Some of this may be a function of testing, particularly among those not hospitalized. If there was an expansion of testing into an area with a high Hispanic population, for example, we would see the density of Hispanic New Yorkers in newly confirmed cases go up. But confirmed deaths are a bit harder to explain in that way.
One thing that may play a role is that black and Hispanic New Yorkers are more likely to hold jobs that the city comptroller in March called “frontline” occupations. The comptroller’s office broke out the density of various occupational groups by race, determining that Hispanic New Yorkers are overrepresented among grocery and cleaning occupations while black New Yorkers are overrepresented (relative to population) among transit, trucking, health-care and family services occupations.
This doesn’t get into other occupations that don’t sort into the comptroller’s categories but are nonetheless still open and engaging with the public, such as food service.
Again, the good news is that the number of new cases documented by the city in which race and ethnicity could be determined was relatively low from April 22 to 30. There were 2,515 new cases in which the person didn’t need to be hospitalized, 3,242 in which the person did and 1,950 cases in which the person died. The bad news, though, is that more than 1,400 of the non-hospitalized cases and nearly 1,600 of the hospitalizations were among Hispanic New Yorkers — 57 percent and 49 percent of the total, respectively, within a group that makes up 30 percent of the relevant population. Black New Yorkers were also overrepresented among these new cases, though to a lesser extent.
This may be an anomaly. It also, however, probably reflects that Hispanic and black New Yorkers aren’t able to stay at home as ordered and are therefore paying a price.