Why Does New York Have Far More Coronavirus Cases Than California? Experts Explain The Difference

Kathy Novak
March 25, 2020 - 4:51 pm

New York state and California began March with approximately the same number of coronavirus cases, but New York now has 10 times more confirmed cases than California. Experts explain why New York has seen such a surge. People who have traveled to New York City in recent weeks have been told to self-quarantine for 14 days. The number of confirmed cases in New York has doubled every three days.

So, what explains why New York is confronting a serious surge in cases while the California tally has been growing at a much slower rate? 

“What’s happening in New York is still the classic exponential increase, which looks like a shooting star on the graph. And they’re facing a very difficult situation,” says Dr. Steven Goodman, a professor of epidemiology and population health at Stanford. “Our curve — at least if you look at the deaths over the past few days — seems to have leveled off. And we’re at a way, way lower level, in the hundreds as opposed to the thousands.”

That may be because the Bay Area cancelled large events earlier. By Mar. 16, most of the region was under a shelter-in-place order. The whole state followed three days later, and New York followed one day after that. 

“Cautiously optimistic that what we’re doing right now is having the desired effect,” says Goodman. “The problem is of course, that everything we see today is a function of what happened a week or two ago.”

Another factor that might explain  California’s flatter curve is that fewer tests have been done here. New York has conducted 78,000 tests as of Monday, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. California had conducted 67,000 tests as of Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said. That's at least up sharply from Saturday when only 24,000 tests had been taken. 

But Goodman says the number of confirmed cases is not the only indicator that California may be slowing the spread. “The numbers to really focus on are the number of hospitalizations and then, sadly, the number of deaths. Because those are unaffected by testing.”

New York has had four times the number of deaths as California. 

But local officials are not ruling out the possibility that the Bay Area could still face a drastic rise in cases and hospitalizations similar to New York City, and are taking steps to expand the number of hospital beds, ventilators and PPE. 

Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health says the worst is yet to come and it may take two weeks before we learn if the shelter-in-place order has made an impact.