The first and deadliest COVID wave in New York City in 2020 began spreading weeks earlier than previously thought, according to a new analysis.
The investigation, conducted by conservative think tank The Empire Center, found the deadly outbreak spread about a month earlier than thought – in early March.
“In retrospect, it is now clear that the New York outbreak began a month or more earlier and rose six times faster than available test data, which was scarce at the time,” the report concludes.
“The rate of infection likely peaked around March 19, three weeks earlier than previously thought — a finding that may have significantly changed how authorities are handling the crisis.”
Overall, the report’s analysis showed that the five counties had a higher death rate from COVID-19 in the three-month period from March 19 to June 10, 2020 than most countries had in the first three years of the pandemic.
The report noted that the peak was reached in early March, when the then-governor Andrew Cuomo and then-NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio were at odds over how best to respond — and given that New Yorkers were essentially self-initiating a shutdown by canceling scheduled events, closing stores and working from home, wore they help to change the curve before the stay -orders to take home.
The report suggests that had state and local officials known that the pandemic was already peaking locally, they might have avoided the mistakes of late March, including the panic over hospital capacity.
“[The Cuomo administration] “Would have avoided spending time and money building emergency hospitals that went largely unused,” they wrote.
“And they might never have issued the March 25 order requiring the transfer of Covid-positive patients to nursing homes — a decision that likely contributed to the high mortality rate at those facilities and contributed to Cuomo’s political downfall.”
Still, the report found that many other cities facing the same problems fared better during the pandemic — differences the report attributed in part to New York’s exceptional density and hub for international trade and tourism.
The report calls on state officials to order a “close review” of the state’s pandemic response that would focus on the early days of the outbreak in January and February 2020, including a review of disease early detection strategies without effective testing and for better coordination of supply inventories.
It said Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to hire a consulting firm to investigate the response was insufficient and recommended a special independent commission, or review, to be led by the legislature.
Hochul’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cuomo’s spokesman Rich Azzopardi dismissed the report, saying the previous COVID timeline it outlined was nothing new.
“This is real right-wing Empire Center ‘dog-eat-my-homework’ stuff,” Azzopardi said.
“We’ve been saying for years that the virus was there months before the first case and that no one, whether it was the government, the CDC, or the World Health Organization, knew how to raise the alarm — let alone take a unified response.”
Other highlights in the report include:
- The first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in New York City remains one of the deadliest in the world. In just three months, nearly 23,000 residents, or 0.3 percent of the city’s population, died.
- In its worst 12 weeks, from March 19 to June 10, 2020, the city reached a higher Covid-19 death rate than 85 percent of countries have reported in the entire three-and-a-half years of the pandemic.
- Among 415 countries and subregions worldwide, the city’s highest 12-week death rate was the second highest, just behind Mexico City.
- Among the 3,140 U.S. counties, the highest 12-week pandemic death rate was in the Bronx at the 99th percentile, Manhattan at the 98th, Queens and Brooklyn at the 97th, and Staten Island at the 96th percentile.
- The first wave in New York started weeks earlier than thought at the time, and the infection rate likely peaked in mid-March.