One of essentially the most persistent myths about the specter of COVID-19 is that it’s inextricably linked with inhabitants density. Since March, this clarification has proven up in magazine articles and news reports each domestically and internationally. It has appeared within the speeches of mayors and governors and the columns of pundits from throughout the ideological spectrum.
It has additionally been completely debunked.
The supposed hyperlink between inhabitants density and COVID-19 doesn’t work at any scale. At the worldwide degree, coronavirus superstars embody South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore — all among the many most densely populated international locations on earth.
Countrywide statistics discover no relationship between inhabitants density and COVID-19 dying charges. To decide only one instance, sparsely populated Canada has practically 10 instances more deaths per capita than tightly packed Bangladesh.
The clarification doesn’t work inside U.S. borders both. While it’s true that America’s most densely populated metropolis, New York, had one of many nation’s worst outbreaks, its second densest city, San Francisco, had one of many least severe. On Jan. 6, North Dakota, which ranks forty seventh among the many states in inhabitants per sq. mile, had twice as many COVID-19 circumstances per capita as New Jersey, which ranks first.
Density can’t even clarify how the pandemic erupted inside cities. In New York, the boroughs of Bronx and Queens have up to three times more deaths than Manhattan regardless of having half the population density. The similar sample has appeared all over the place from Chicago to Seattle to Nashville: Coronavirus outbreaks infect front-line employees, minorities, the poor and mask-deniers, no matter how excessive their residences are stacked on prime of one another.
A Faulty Narrative
Beyond the numbers, the connection between inhabitants density and COVID-19 unfold doesn’t even make primary frequent sense.
Population density — the variety of folks per sq. mile — roughly measures how shut folks stay to one another. It doesn’t measure the kind of work they do, the frequency of their face-to-face interactions or how typically they go to church. Since March, the coronavirus has struck dozens of rural areas through meatpacking amenities, prisons and superspreader events. Homes being spaced far aside doesn’t stop the actions that truly unfold the virus.
So what does clarify the huge variations between cities, states and international locations within the severity of their COVID-19 outbreaks? The reply is primarily public well being coverage: Places with political leaders who instituted early lockdowns, strict masks orders and competent testing, tracing and quarantine regimes have handed via the pandemic comparatively unscathed.
In America, the variations between states have little to do with intrinsic components like inhabitants density, climate or demographics and extra to do with the political ideology driving their leaders’ actions. The virus hit Northeastern states early and unexpectedly, inflicting a steep wave of circumstances and deaths. Since then, because the virus has settled into America’s current divides, it has unfold most quickly in states the place governors had been reluctant to impose necessary controls or reopened their economies earlier than suppressing the virus. Of the 10 states with the highest current caseloads, seven have Republican governors.
Crowding, Not Density
This doesn’t imply there’s no relationship between inhabitants dynamics and the unfold of the virus. The variety of folks residing in every family might, the truth is, be a major driver of transmission. In October, a examine in Tennessee and Wisconsin discovered that 53% of people that shared a house with a COVID-19 affected person became infected inside seven days.
Residential overcrowding just isn’t the identical as inhabitants density. A five-story condominium constructing with 10 studio residences is densely populated, however presents little threat of coronavirus transmission as a result of its residents are bodily separated from one another. A suburban residence with 10 folks sharing bedrooms and residing area, however, poses a major threat.
This is among the causes that farmworkers have such excessive COVID-19 threat regardless of principally working outdoors. Low pay forces them to stay in shared indoor areas moderately than having their very own residences.
Overcrowding inside residences can also clarify why cities like Los Angeles, the place a lot of the land is roofed by single-family properties, are experiencing such extreme outbreaks. Though it’s lower than half as densely populated as New York City, LA has roughly double the speed of overcrowded housing.
Many smaller cities show the identical dynamic. As lengthy because it remains illegal to construct multi-family condominium buildings and different density-friendly types of housing, employees double up, rising households keep put and younger folks stay with extra roommates.
In different phrases, America’s drawback might not be density, however the lack of it.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up for membership to turn out to be a founding member and assist form HuffPost’s subsequent chapter