Blue City Lockdowns Obscure COVID's Root Causes


It will be months, likely years, before we understand how COVID-19 has reshaped our communities. Yet there is enough data, based on just the last three months, to get some notion of what areas and populations are most vulnerable.

The patterns are in many ways fairly clear. Media outlets, particularly those based in New York, seem to feel that the pain of the urban centers will be shared universally. The “science” as generally endorsed by our ruling Clerisy  dictates that we impose strong controls which, though perhaps necessary in New York and other places, have been disastrous in marginally unaffected rural and suburban areas.

In reality, the data seem to indicate that exposure density, mass transit, and poverty are the key factors in facilitating the spread of the virus. Targeted attention to those areas would constitute a far more efficient and effective response than the one our elites are currently forcing upon us.

The Density Connection

Perhaps no aspect of the pandemic’s rise has been more hotly contested than population density. Yet the tie between density and pestilence is not a new one. It is reminiscent of great Renaissance cities like Venice which, as noted by historian William McNeill, suffered grievously from waves of pestilence far more than relative backwaters in central Europe and Poland. Then and now, many of the same things that make cities great—such as exposure to foreign trade and immigrants—naturally aid the spread of pandemics. Most of the largest hotspots for COVID-19 to date in both America and Europe have been dense, urban areas.

Technically speaking, it is not population density per se that matters so much as what is called “exposure density”—that is, the amount of time spent in unavoidable close proximity to others, particularly in unventilated spaces and crowded households. But population density, of course, is a major factor of exposure density. This likely explains, to a large extent, the extraordinary rate of infection and fatalities located in New York City and some of its suburban areas. The city itself represents only 2.5% of the nation’s population, yet accounts for 15% of cases and an astounding 26% of fatalities, according to the Johns Hopkins virus dashboard (May 7).

Apologists for dense urban development point to the relative success in containing the contagion in places like Singapore, Tokyo, and Seoul. These cities have benefited from their experiences with previous pandemics such as SARS; they enjoy less extreme poverty; and their populations are generally more disciplined and less diverse. Even so, all are now facing a new upsurge of cases. In Japan, 30% of all cases are in Tokyo prefecture—this is nearly three times the prefecture’s share of the country’s total population. As a result, Japan has been forced to go back under lockdown as its hospital system becomes increasingly stressed.

The geographic differentials are equally stark in the United States, which was clearly far less prepared for the pandemic. New York is home to some of the densest neighborhoods in the nation and remains by far the most transit-dependent city in North America. Life is just much more crowded in the city, which makes social distancing more difficult, lockdowns more draconian, and exposure density more severe.

Unsurprisingly, the media, based as it is largely in New York, warns that the rest of the country faces the same or similar risk of infection. This may be true, but there is not much evidence now. Less urban states like Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota now all have among the lowest rates of COVID-related deaths in the country—roughly one fortieth that of New York. These divisions have been so widespread that some states have tried to keep people from high-infection areas from entering.

Read the rest at American Mind.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. Speaker of the House of Representatives appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photo credit: Petr Kratochvil, released under Public Domain.